Category Archives: Espionage/"Intelligence"

The West Oppressed The Third World For So Long That It Became Third World Itself

Many have already noticed: The U.S. really, really doesn’t feel like the world leader, or even as a ‘first world country’. Of course, I write that sarcastically, as I detest expressions like ‘first world’, and the ‘third world’. But readers know what I mean.

Bridges, subways, inner cities, everything is crumbling, falling apart. When I used to live in New York City, more than two decades ago, returning from Japan was shocking: the US felt like a poor, deprived country, full of problems, misery, of confused and depressed people, homeless individuals; in short – desperados. Now, I feel the same when I land in the US after spending some time in China.

And it gets much worse. What the West used to accuse the Soviet Union of is now actually clearly detectable in the United States and the United Kingdom themselves: surveillance is at every step these days; in New York, London, Sydney, and even in the countryside. Every move a person makes, every purchase, every computer click, is registered somewhere, somehow. And this monitoring is, mostly, not even illegal.

Speech is controlled by political correctness. Someone behind the scenes decides what is acceptable and what is not, what is desirable or not, and even what is permissible. You make one ‘mistake’ and you are out; from the teaching positions at the universities, or from the media outlets.

In such conditions, humor cannot thrive, and satire dies. It is not unlike religious fundamentalism: you get destroyed if you ‘offend’. In such circumstances, writers cannot write ground-breaking novels, because true novels offend by definition, and always push the boundaries. As a result, almost nobody reads novels anymore.

Only toothless, ‘controlled humor’ is permitted. No punches can be administered intuitively. Everything has to be calculated in advance. No ‘outrageous’ political fiction can pass the ‘invisible censorship’ in the West (and so, novels as a form have almost died). Those who read in Russian or Chinese languages know perfectly well that the fiction in Russia and China is much more provocative and avant-garde.

In the West, poetry has died, too. And so has philosophy, which has been reduced to a boring, stale and indigestible academic discipline.

While Hollywood and the mass media keep producing, relentlessly, all sorts of highly insulting and stereotypical racist junk (mainly against the Chinese, Russians, Arabs, Latinos and others), great writers and filmmakers who want to ridicule the Western regime and its structure have already been silenced. You can only humiliate non-Westerners in a way that is approved (again: somewhere, somehow), but God forbid, you dare to criticize the pro-Western elites who are ruining their countries on behalf of London and Washington, in the Gulf, Southeast Asia or Africa – that would be ‘patronizing’ and ‘racist’. A great arrangement for the Empire and its servants, isn’t it?

We all know what has happened to Julian Assange, and to Edward Snowden. In the West, people are disappearing, getting arrested, censored. Millions are losing jobs: in the media, publishing houses, and in the film studios. The Cold War era appears to be relatively ‘tolerant’, compared to what is taking place now.

Social media constantly represses ‘uncomfortable’ individuals, ‘unacceptable’ media outlets, and too ‘unorthodox’ thoughts.

Travel has become a boot camp. This is where they break you. Move through the Western airports and you will encounter the vulgar, insulting ‘securistan’. Now, you are not just expected to pull down your pants if ordered, or take off your shoes, or throw away all your bottles containing liquids: you are expected to smile, to grin brightly, like an idiot. You are supposed to show how eager, how cooperative you are: to answer loudly, looking straight into the eyes of your tormentors. If you get humiliated, still, be polite. If you want to fly, show that you are enjoying this stupid and useless humiliation, administered for one and only reason: to break you, to make you pathetic and submissive. To teach you where you really belong. Or else. Or else! We all know what will happen if you refuse to ‘cooperate’.

*****

Now, ‘they’ will use double-speak to let you know that all this is for your own good. It will not be pronounced, but you would be made to sense it: ‘you are being protected from those horrible Third World monsters, madmen, perverts.’ And, of course, from Putin, from the Chinese Communists, from the butcher Maduro, from Assad, or from the Iranian Shi’a fanatics.

The regime is fighting for you, it cares for you, it is protecting you.

Sure, if you live in the UK or the US, the chances are that you are deep in debt, depressed and with no prospects for the future. Maybe your children are hungry, maybe, in the US, you cannot afford the medical care. Most likely, you cannot afford housing in your own city. Perhaps you are forced to have two or three jobs.

But at least you know that your ‘wise leaders’ in the White House, Congress, Pentagon and security agencies are working day and night, protecting you from countless conspiracies, from vicious attacks from abroad, and from those evil Chinese and Russians, who are busy building progressive and egalitarian societies.

Lucky you!

*****

Except: something does not add up here.

For years and decades you were told how free you were. And how oppressed, unfree, those against whom you are being protected, are.

You were told how rich you are and how miserable “the others” were.

To stop those deprived and deranged hordes, some serious measures had to be applied. A right-wing death-squad in some Central American or Southeast Asian country had to be trained in US military camps; a thoroughly absolutist and corrupt monarch had to be supported and pampered; a military fascist coup had to be arranged. Millions raped, tens of thousands of corpses. Not pretty at all, but you know… necessary. For your own good, North American or European citizens; for your own good…. Even for the good of the country that we designated for our ‘liberation’.

Few dissidents in the West have been protesting, for decades. No one has been paying much attention to them. Most of them became ‘unemployable’, and were silenced through misery and the inability to pay their basic bills.

But suddenly…

What happened, suddenly? Because something really happened…

*****

The Empire got tired of plundering the non-Western parts of the world, exclusively.

Well-conditioned, brainwashed and scared, the Western public began to get treated with the same spite as people in the plundered and miserable parts of the world. Well, not yet, not exactly. There are still some essential differences, but the trend is definitely there.

The Western public cannot do too much to protect itself, really. The regime knows everything about everybody: it spies on every citizen: where he or she walks, what he or she eats, drives, flies, watches, consumes, reads. There are no secrets, anymore.

You are an atheist? No need to ‘confess’. You are confessing every minute, with each and every computer click, by pressing the remote control button, or by shopping on Amazon.

Is Big Brother watching? Oh no; now there is much more detailed surveillance. Big Brother is watching, recording and analyzing.

General Pinochet of Chile used to brag that without his knowledge, no leaf could ever move. The old, fascist scumbag was bragging; exaggerating. On the other hand, Western rulers say nothing, but they clearly know what they are doing. Without their knowledge, nothing moves and nobody moves.

Arriving from China, from Russia or Cuba, the first thing that strikes me is how disciplined, obedient and scared, the Europeans and North Americans really are. They subconsciously know that they are being controlled and cannot do anything about it.

When trains get delayed or cancelled, they sheepishly murmur half-audible curses. Their medical benefits get reduced; they accept, or quietly commit suicide. Their public infrastructure crumbles; they say nothing, remembering the ‘good old days’.

Why is it that I feel hope, I laugh with the people, in Mexico City, Johannesburg or Beijing? Why is there so much warmth in the geographically cold cities of Vladivostok or Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka? Why are the people of London, Paris, Long Angeles looking so concerned, so depressed?

Some historically poor countries are on the rise. And the people there show appreciation for every tiny improvement. Nothing is more beautiful than optimism.

The West has fought the so-called “third world” for many, long decades; oppressing it, tormenting it, looting it, violating its people. It prevented them from choosing their own governments. Now it has gone overboard: it is attempting to control and to oppress the entire world, including its own citizens.

As various countries all over the world are getting back onto their feet, resisting pressure from Washington, London, Paris and Berlin, people in the West are increasingly getting treated by their governments with the spite that used to be reserved exclusively for the “under-developed nations” (yes, another disgusting expression).

Clearly, the West has “learnt from itself”.

While countries like Russia, China, Vietnam, Mexico, Iran and others are surging forward, many previously rich colonialist and neo-colonialist empires are now beginning to resemble the “Third World”.

These days, it is very sad being a writer in New York City or in London. Just as it is frightening to be poor. Or being different. All over the world, the roles are being reversed.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO), Magazine of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Whittaker Chambers or Alger Hiss: Who’s the Real Traitor?

Though #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for 13 weeks in 1952, beloved of William Buckley and Ronald Reagan (“As long as humanity speaks of virtue and dreams of freedom, the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers will ennoble and inspire.”), despite being hailed as “one of the dozen or so indispensable books of the century” (George Will), Witness quickly disappeared from our collective consciousness. We remember its most famous victim, Alger Hiss, as a nice guy who was mercilessly hounded, the prelude to the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, a gruesome stain on US history.

Chambers was a talented writer, penning popular short stories in the New Masses in 1931, a full time editor and journalist at Time. His autobiography is full of details of both sides of the so-called treachery of the times, and Chambers’ own ruminations about love and death and the whole damn thing. It swings from over-the-top self-righteousness to self-abnegation, maniacal zeal as a communist, then as a spy, then as self-proclaimed Mr Right, and woe to anyone standing in the way of his mission to Save the World from Communism.

Like his closeted father, his uncle and brother, all of whom committed suicide, he was possessed by a demon, which drove him to an early grave, working 36-hour days at Time in the 1940s, first doing book reviews, then editing the foreign news page (till he had his second heart attack), then back to books. His fellow journalists resented his new-found conservative attacks on their liberal New Dealer mindset, seeing them all as commie dupes. He immortalized himself destroying the careers of ‘good guys’, Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White among many others, for their idealistic sins. He became a born-again Quaker, though, like fellow Quaker Richard Nixon, he still believed in ‘just wars’ against commies.

Victims

His worldview was apocalyptic, first through pink lenses, then puritan. Evil is the central problem of human life. The two opposing worldviews: man as flawed/ sinful (Christianity) vs man as good/ perfectable (enlightenment, liberalism -> communism).

Alger Hiss

Alger Hiss

We remember only Alger Hiss as Chambers’ victim, but Hiss got off lucky. Chambers exposed Harry Dexter White (1892–1948), the senior American official at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference that established the postwar economic order, as a spy. White died of a heart attack shortly after HUAC hearings in 1948.

White and Keynes at Bretton Woods

Hiss was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in 1950 (for perjury, as his ‘crimes’ were from 1938) serving only three years and eight months. While in prison, Hiss acted as a volunteer attorney, adviser, and tutor for many of his fellow inmates. Disbarred, he served as a lowly clerk until in 1975, he was readmitted to the Massachusetts bar, the first time a convicted felon was reinstated. The contents of the ‘pumpkin papers’ were finally revealed as of no importance to state security.

White and Keynes at Bretton Woods

Hiss insisted to the end he was innocent. Witness certainly reveals Chambers and Hiss as close friends for as long as Chambers remained in the party. What kind of spy was White? “The economics White advocated were hardly Marxist. They were by this time what would be described as thoroughly Keynesian … As for White’s domestic politics, these were mainstream New Deal progressive, and there is no evidence that he admired communism as a political ideology. White’s daughters still strongly maintain his innocence.1 Chambers crucified Hiss and White merely for wanting to treat the Soviets as what they were — allies, friends.

Revenge

Despite his protestations of fighting evil, what Chambers really was after was personal revenge. He had believed and found his faith was betrayed by Stalin’s crimes, which he now believed included wanting WWIII and world conquest, though we must take his word, as there is no evidence of this in Chambers’ Witness (or anywhere else, to my knowledge, beyond rhetorical flourishes). He quotes his own draft Time editorial ‘Ghosts on the roof’ about the Yalta conference in 1945, where he portrayed the Soviet Union and US as ‘jet planes’ flying towards each other, where one has to destroy other. This virtual declaration of war was removed before it was published, though the new Cold War theme remained.

His new Christian faith armed him for his heretical/ saintly battle against communists, despite his Time colleagues, who were all New Dealers riding high on the crest of WWII, when the Soviets were our friends. He made the transition from communist militant to communist heretic to Christian saint, always the mantra: ‘how could one man be right when so many say he’s wrong?’. Always the self-proclaimed martyr, forced to resign from Time, driving himself to an early death.

His original name was Vivian, his father an artist, a father in name only, so, of course, he was bullied, a lonely child. He ran away from home and found work tearing up street car tracks for a few months, his stint with the proletariat. Born in 1901, he was 16 when the Russian revolution electrified the capitalist world, and like idealistic youth at the time, he searched out those allied with it. He tried the Webbs, Fabian socialism,  but ‘there was no life there. The reek of life was missing.’ To remake the world, socialism involved violent struggle to get and keep power.

If you just read the first 300 pages of Witness, you can come away believing, like he did (but in his case, later with horror), that communism will triumph, despite the many horrors perpetrated in the name of the revolution under Stalin.

He explains three influences on him in his testimony to the grand jury’s question ‘what does it mean to be a communist’: the Cheka founder Dzerzhinsky, who cleaned latrines in his Warsaw prison as an example to those less developed, the German Jew Eugene Levine, leader of the 1918-9 Bavarian Soviet Republic, when sentenced to death, who told his executioner a communist is ‘always under sentence of death’, and the Russian Narodnik Kalyaev/ Sazonov, who burned himself alive as protest against flogging.2

Witness is an indictment of both great faiths of our times, capitalism (sorry, ‘freedom’) and communism. Both are doomed. WWI led to the Russian revolution. WWII has led to the last stage of the crisis with the rise of communism as a world power. Here, war led to revolution. Now it’s the reverse: revolution will lead to WWIII, launched by the communists to take control of the world. Wait a minute. Presumably capitalism/ freedom led to WWI and WWII. So now it’s communism leading to WWIII? Chambers sketched out the dubious scenario that would dominate the US zeitgeist for the next half century, and which continues today in the ‘war on terror’, now expanded to include Islam. It seems war is alive and well, sans communism, and is the result of capitalism/ freedom.

We must always be on guard, as it is easy ‘to fall into the communist trap: The vision inspires, the crisis impels.’ Communism offers two powerful certainties: a reason to live and die. But this belies ‘a shallowness of thought, and leads to incalculable mischief in action.’ Though his argument is a pox on both houses, he retreats to the protection of the devil he knew first as the lesser of two evils, and exhorts us to seek salvation in religion, as the mistake was ‘man without god.’ One could never be a complete man without god. This is the fatal deficiency at the root of all the troubles of modern man.

Chambers literally thanks the Lord for delivering him from evil. He saw the light. Breaking with communism was a religious experience, as indeed it was for other renegades like him. Elizabeth Bentley went through a similar life journey, becoming even more central to HUAC’s work, to the point that she became a full-time paid informer for the FBI. In 1948, like Chambers and Soviet defector Krivitsky, she has a spiritual awakening, becoming a Roman Catholic. She was frequently invited to lecture on the Communist threat by Catholic groups happy to pay her $300 fee. Krivitsky suddenly was (presumably) murdered in 1939 before he could be baptized Episcopalian.

Chambers was convinced communism would triumph, explaining to his wife: we are leaving the winning world for the losing one. It is hard to take this seriously, given his litany of bungling, both petty and epic, of communists throughout the period. He heard about the Ukrainian famine in the early 30s, he knew first hand of the devastating purges, the Spanish civil war (i.e., the uncivil war of the Stalinists against the Trotskyists there), the rejection by the Comintern of a common front with social democrats in Germany in 1929, allowing Hitler to move easily into power.

This movement was poised to conquer the world? He told Hiss of his doubts a few days before Christmas in 1938, just before breaking with the party. Hiss told him this was just ‘mental masturbation’. Hiss knew where the real danger to the world lay.

Hiss forgave Chambers his doubts (he no doubt shared them) and wanted to stay friends, giving Chambers a present for his daughter even as Chambers was telling him he was finished with communism. As Chambers was preparing to rat on someone who appeared to be his closest friend at the time, this sweet gesture brought tears to his eyes. Chambers was a hopeless romantic who fell out of love, lost his faith, sought revenge for its betrayal of him, and subconsciously drove himself to an early grave, a long drawn out suicide, a family trait.

Chambers’ accusations do have the ring of truth, but it is a personal vindictive truth, which ran roughshod over others’ lives in the cause of Chambers’ personal mission to save the world. He understands that communism is the logical conclusion of the enlightenment, liberalism, ‘Edwardian gluttonous pursuit of pleasure, secular good works, and progress,’3 but prefers staying at the level of gluttonous pursuit.

The pumpkin legacy

Chambers and his acolyte McCarthy did their best to destroy the best of American life, the New Dealers with their ideals and openness to ‘secular good works’ without the gluttony. I would hazard that he did just as much, no, more harm than Stalin’s very evil purging and hapless cat-and-mouse espionage. But Stalin’s purging was primarily of Russian communists or suspected Soviet plotters. I can’t think of one instance of real damage done to the West by Soviet spying. The Soviets were bound to crack the atom in any case, and, the sooner the better, given the anti-communist hysteria, when even Bertrand Russell toyed with the idea of a quick nuclear war before the Soviets had recovered from WWII.

In fact, Soviet espionage was far more benign than that of the US. The CIA and others parachuted defectors behind ‘enemy lines’ to sabotage industry, later planted computer viruses into equipment the Soviets were importing, poisoned progressive thought through media control. Proof of this is found in the so-called Mitrokhin Archives. KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin was for 30 years KGB archivist in foreign intelligence, and brought every conceivable secret when he defected to Britain in 1992.

Christopher Andrew’s Sword and the Shield (1992) and The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (2005), based on the archives show pathetically little in terms of subversion and no overarching plan to invade anywhere. Despite his anticommunist bias, Andrew shows that the KGB did little with the information it collected, which mostly involved technology acquisition, and which shows the reactive nature of Soviet undercover work—attempts to uncover sabotage by the West, use of blackmail to protect Soviet sources.

Canada’s most celebrated Soviet spy was Fred Rose, Canada’s one and only communist MP. In 1945, when the Soviet Union was branded as Canada’s enemy, this led to the arrest of Rose and denial of his parliamentary immunity, when he was found guilty of conspiring to turn over information about the explosive RDX44 to the Soviets. The Soviet defector Gouzenko had stolen documents from the Soviet embassy, and alleged that Rose was leading a spy ring of up to 20 Soviet spies.

He was never allowed to clear his name. Rose did not see sharing RDX information at the time as spying, as the Soviets were allies, doing most of the fighting against the Nazis, but he was quickly convicted. When released, his health broken, abandoned by his wife while in prison, he was unable to work, hounded by the RCMP, and finally emigrated to Poland. In later years, Rose admitted his error, saying, “I made one mistake in my life and I paid for it,” but he was denied the chance to clear his name of spying, as his Canadian citizenship was revoked in 1957, and his appeal was denied. Too late to matter, in 1958 Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Ellen Fairclough amended the Citizenship Act with the “Fred Rose amendment” so that such a removal of Canadian citizenship could never happen again.

“The horror of treason is sin against the spirit,” Chambers wrote in reviewing Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason for Time in 1947 (which, he boasts was read by ‘a million more or less’). But isn’t that what Chambers did? Hiss (sort of) betrayed (in the interests of world peace). But Chambers too betrayed. He betrayed his friends, and for what? Imperialism?

What about Forster’s “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country”? Especially if ‘my country’ is doing nasty things.

The muck of McCarthyism endures in our collective memory. Chambers’ recounting of his HUAC testimony is, as he puts it, comedy. The committee members (including Nixon who became his ‘valued friend’) were the uncouth, undignified, ungrammatical, rude and ruthless, as no decent members of congress wanted to serve on it. They were almost uniformly bigotted, emphasizing Jewish names when calling and interrogating witnesses. The images we remember, if any, are of Lauren Bacall and others marching in protest at the blacklisting and jailing of actors.

It’s hard not to pity Chambers, who saw himself as testifying for something, rather than against people who were once his intimate friends, that is, he was blind to the harm he was doing to them. The HUAC media farce couldn’t help but portray him as the bad guy, even as the Cold War clouds were gathering. Those ‘witnessing’ the Hiss trials didn’t really care much about microfiche spools in pumpkins (though that was entertaining). They were fascinated, appalled by fat, pompous Whittaker’s tattling on, betraying his handsome, intellectual friend Alger, culminating in his sensational interview on Meet the Press in 1948, ‘a savage assault with little restraint or decency,’ ‘fun for the boys, death for the frogs.4 How could he stoop to this sordid business? To what end?

He admits that he was ‘bringing ruin on the lives of so many people and … would never again really be able to live with myself.’ ‘The penalty is a kind of death, most deadly if a man must go on living. He admits his witnessing ‘destroyed himself to make his witness.’5 Hey, Whittaker, remember Stalin’s ‘you have to break eggs to make an omelette’?

Bacall and Bogarte and other stars battle HUAC

Bacall, Bogart and other stars battle HUAC

He bemoans ‘the death of religious faith’, and takes shelter in Quakerism, but no one was listening. All they heard is the ugly HUAC clatter. Watched their beloved Hollywood stars like John Garfield, nice guys like White, dying of heart attacks as humiliated martyrs. My heroes are those brave enough to protest at the risk of their own careers (Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracey, Humphrey Bogart….). The list of wonderful Americans who stood up to the anti-communist hysterics like Whittaker Chambers is long, and will be remembered long after Chambers et al are consigned to the dustbin of history.

Spydom’s legacy

Ethel Rosenberg

Whether or not Hiss et al were religious, whether or not they ‘sinned’ by breaking the law, they showed far more ‘spirit’ than newly christianized Chambers and Bentley. The victims have been slowly rehabilitated starting in the 1960s with Dalton Trumbo openly credited with the screenplay of Spartacus (1960). In 2015, New York City Council issued a proclamation stating that “the government wrongfully executed Ethel Rosenberg,” and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer officially recognized, “the injustice suffered by Ethel Rosenberg and her family,” and declared her birthday, September 28, “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.” In March 2016, Michael and Robert (via the Rosenberg Fund for Children) launched a petition campaign calling on President Obama to formally exonerate their mother. 60 Minutes presented the story of the Rosenberg children and their quest for justice.

While Chambers was loudly lauded in his 1961 obits, Bentley (whose victims numbered 80) was passed over. Already by the 1960s, people were tired of the spy mania, and rightly, as the Soviet spies were (misguided?) idealists, each one a personal tragedy, shot down by traitors-to-the-cause. Few besides the Reagans and Buckleys remembers Chambers or Bentley et al as noble patriots, rightly, as they were (excuse me) rats escaping/ scuttling their ship, betraying their friends. It seems Hiss really was on Soviet spy lists, as revealed when archives were opened after 1991. Whether he was a ‘card-carrying communist’ and lied, I don’t know and don’t care.

I do know that such spies as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Rudolph Abel and Kim Philby are now admired and increasingly honoured for their idealism and courage. They spied in the interests of humanity, against imperialism. I’m with them. Eat cake, Whittaker.

Witness was dusted off for its 50th anniversary in 2002, with a foreword by William F Buckley, who recalls that only two years after its publication ‘almost total silence had closed in on him.’ In his foreword, Robert Novak, relying on Hungarian archives, harrumphs: So, the case is closed. Hiss was a liar, spy and traitor. But these inveterate Cold Warriors are wrong on all counts: communism was not the all-powerful ogre intent on war and conquest, it was wrong to betray you friends for believing what you did and then didn’t.

Chambers’ ‘valued friend’, Nixon, made detente with the evil commies his greatest legacy. As communism mellowed, it turns out Christianity and communism are reconcilable after all.

As the red scare and blacklist unravelled in the 1950s, the journalist who led the expose of Chambers in 1948, David Sentner, went on to arrange a visit by William Hearst Jr with Khrushchev in 1956, which won a Pulitzer Prize, leaving Chambers’ plans to orchestrate the destruction of the communist ‘jet plane’ in shambles.

So where is Chambers/ Bentley’s legacy? Down there in Dante’s Ninth Circle—the “lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven”—with real American traitors like Jonathan Pollard (who gave away lots of genuine secrets) sentenced to life in 1987, granted Israeli citizenship in 1995, who despite Israeli pleas/ whining, is still under house arrest after 28 years in prison. Now there’s a real traitor — for all but the Israelis, who paint murals and name buildings (in east Jerusalem) in his honour.

  1. Benn Steil, The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (2013).
  2. Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952), Foreword as a letter to my children, p. 38.
  3. Ibid., p. 499.
  4. Ibid., p. 702.
  5. Ibid., pp. 710, 693.

Whittaker Chambers or Alger Hiss: Who’s the Real Traitor?

Though #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for 13 weeks in 1952, beloved of William Buckley and Ronald Reagan (“As long as humanity speaks of virtue and dreams of freedom, the life and writings of Whittaker Chambers will ennoble and inspire.”), despite being hailed as “one of the dozen or so indispensable books of the century” (George Will), Witness quickly disappeared from our collective consciousness. We remember its most famous victim, Alger Hiss, as a nice guy who was mercilessly hounded, the prelude to the McCarthy purges of the 1950s, a gruesome stain on US history.

Chambers was a talented writer, penning popular short stories in the New Masses in 1931, a full time editor and journalist at Time. His autobiography is full of details of both sides of the so-called treachery of the times, and Chambers’ own ruminations about love and death and the whole damn thing. It swings from over-the-top self-righteousness to self-abnegation, maniacal zeal as a communist, then as a spy, then as self-proclaimed Mr Right, and woe to anyone standing in the way of his mission to Save the World from Communism.

Like his closeted father, his uncle and brother, all of whom committed suicide, he was possessed by a demon, which drove him to an early grave, working 36-hour days at Time in the 1940s, first doing book reviews, then editing the foreign news page (till he had his second heart attack), then back to books. His fellow journalists resented his new-found conservative attacks on their liberal New Dealer mindset, seeing them all as commie dupes. He immortalized himself destroying the careers of ‘good guys’, Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White among many others, for their idealistic sins. He became a born-again Quaker, though, like fellow Quaker Richard Nixon, he still believed in ‘just wars’ against commies.

Victims

His worldview was apocalyptic, first through pink lenses, then puritan. Evil is the central problem of human life. The two opposing worldviews: man as flawed/ sinful (Christianity) vs man as good/ perfectable (enlightenment, liberalism -> communism).

Alger Hiss

Alger Hiss

We remember only Alger Hiss as Chambers’ victim, but Hiss got off lucky. Chambers exposed Harry Dexter White (1892–1948), the senior American official at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference that established the postwar economic order, as a spy. White died of a heart attack shortly after HUAC hearings in 1948.

White and Keynes at Bretton Woods

Hiss was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in 1950 (for perjury, as his ‘crimes’ were from 1938) serving only three years and eight months. While in prison, Hiss acted as a volunteer attorney, adviser, and tutor for many of his fellow inmates. Disbarred, he served as a lowly clerk until in 1975, he was readmitted to the Massachusetts bar, the first time a convicted felon was reinstated. The contents of the ‘pumpkin papers’ were finally revealed as of no importance to state security.

White and Keynes at Bretton Woods

Hiss insisted to the end he was innocent. Witness certainly reveals Chambers and Hiss as close friends for as long as Chambers remained in the party. What kind of spy was White? “The economics White advocated were hardly Marxist. They were by this time what would be described as thoroughly Keynesian … As for White’s domestic politics, these were mainstream New Deal progressive, and there is no evidence that he admired communism as a political ideology. White’s daughters still strongly maintain his innocence.1 Chambers crucified Hiss and White merely for wanting to treat the Soviets as what they were — allies, friends.

Revenge

Despite his protestations of fighting evil, what Chambers really was after was personal revenge. He had believed and found his faith was betrayed by Stalin’s crimes, which he now believed included wanting WWIII and world conquest, though we must take his word, as there is no evidence of this in Chambers’ Witness (or anywhere else, to my knowledge, beyond rhetorical flourishes). He quotes his own draft Time editorial ‘Ghosts on the roof’ about the Yalta conference in 1945, where he portrayed the Soviet Union and US as ‘jet planes’ flying towards each other, where one has to destroy other. This virtual declaration of war was removed before it was published, though the new Cold War theme remained.

His new Christian faith armed him for his heretical/ saintly battle against communists, despite his Time colleagues, who were all New Dealers riding high on the crest of WWII, when the Soviets were our friends. He made the transition from communist militant to communist heretic to Christian saint, always the mantra: ‘how could one man be right when so many say he’s wrong?’. Always the self-proclaimed martyr, forced to resign from Time, driving himself to an early death.

His original name was Vivian, his father an artist, a father in name only, so, of course, he was bullied, a lonely child. He ran away from home and found work tearing up street car tracks for a few months, his stint with the proletariat. Born in 1901, he was 16 when the Russian revolution electrified the capitalist world, and like idealistic youth at the time, he searched out those allied with it. He tried the Webbs, Fabian socialism,  but ‘there was no life there. The reek of life was missing.’ To remake the world, socialism involved violent struggle to get and keep power.

If you just read the first 300 pages of Witness, you can come away believing, like he did (but in his case, later with horror), that communism will triumph, despite the many horrors perpetrated in the name of the revolution under Stalin.

He explains three influences on him in his testimony to the grand jury’s question ‘what does it mean to be a communist’: the Cheka founder Dzerzhinsky, who cleaned latrines in his Warsaw prison as an example to those less developed, the German Jew Eugene Levine, leader of the 1918-9 Bavarian Soviet Republic, when sentenced to death, who told his executioner a communist is ‘always under sentence of death’, and the Russian Narodnik Kalyaev/ Sazonov, who burned himself alive as protest against flogging.2

Witness is an indictment of both great faiths of our times, capitalism (sorry, ‘freedom’) and communism. Both are doomed. WWI led to the Russian revolution. WWII has led to the last stage of the crisis with the rise of communism as a world power. Here, war led to revolution. Now it’s the reverse: revolution will lead to WWIII, launched by the communists to take control of the world. Wait a minute. Presumably capitalism/ freedom led to WWI and WWII. So now it’s communism leading to WWIII? Chambers sketched out the dubious scenario that would dominate the US zeitgeist for the next half century, and which continues today in the ‘war on terror’, now expanded to include Islam. It seems war is alive and well, sans communism, and is the result of capitalism/ freedom.

We must always be on guard, as it is easy ‘to fall into the communist trap: The vision inspires, the crisis impels.’ Communism offers two powerful certainties: a reason to live and die. But this belies ‘a shallowness of thought, and leads to incalculable mischief in action.’ Though his argument is a pox on both houses, he retreats to the protection of the devil he knew first as the lesser of two evils, and exhorts us to seek salvation in religion, as the mistake was ‘man without god.’ One could never be a complete man without god. This is the fatal deficiency at the root of all the troubles of modern man.

Chambers literally thanks the Lord for delivering him from evil. He saw the light. Breaking with communism was a religious experience, as indeed it was for other renegades like him. Elizabeth Bentley went through a similar life journey, becoming even more central to HUAC’s work, to the point that she became a full-time paid informer for the FBI. In 1948, like Chambers and Soviet defector Krivitsky, she has a spiritual awakening, becoming a Roman Catholic. She was frequently invited to lecture on the Communist threat by Catholic groups happy to pay her $300 fee. Krivitsky suddenly was (presumably) murdered in 1939 before he could be baptized Episcopalian.

Chambers was convinced communism would triumph, explaining to his wife: we are leaving the winning world for the losing one. It is hard to take this seriously, given his litany of bungling, both petty and epic, of communists throughout the period. He heard about the Ukrainian famine in the early 30s, he knew first hand of the devastating purges, the Spanish civil war (i.e., the uncivil war of the Stalinists against the Trotskyists there), the rejection by the Comintern of a common front with social democrats in Germany in 1929, allowing Hitler to move easily into power.

This movement was poised to conquer the world? He told Hiss of his doubts a few days before Christmas in 1938, just before breaking with the party. Hiss told him this was just ‘mental masturbation’. Hiss knew where the real danger to the world lay.

Hiss forgave Chambers his doubts (he no doubt shared them) and wanted to stay friends, giving Chambers a present for his daughter even as Chambers was telling him he was finished with communism. As Chambers was preparing to rat on someone who appeared to be his closest friend at the time, this sweet gesture brought tears to his eyes. Chambers was a hopeless romantic who fell out of love, lost his faith, sought revenge for its betrayal of him, and subconsciously drove himself to an early grave, a long drawn out suicide, a family trait.

Chambers’ accusations do have the ring of truth, but it is a personal vindictive truth, which ran roughshod over others’ lives in the cause of Chambers’ personal mission to save the world. He understands that communism is the logical conclusion of the enlightenment, liberalism, ‘Edwardian gluttonous pursuit of pleasure, secular good works, and progress,’3 but prefers staying at the level of gluttonous pursuit.

The pumpkin legacy

Chambers and his acolyte McCarthy did their best to destroy the best of American life, the New Dealers with their ideals and openness to ‘secular good works’ without the gluttony. I would hazard that he did just as much, no, more harm than Stalin’s very evil purging and hapless cat-and-mouse espionage. But Stalin’s purging was primarily of Russian communists or suspected Soviet plotters. I can’t think of one instance of real damage done to the West by Soviet spying. The Soviets were bound to crack the atom in any case, and, the sooner the better, given the anti-communist hysteria, when even Bertrand Russell toyed with the idea of a quick nuclear war before the Soviets had recovered from WWII.

In fact, Soviet espionage was far more benign than that of the US. The CIA and others parachuted defectors behind ‘enemy lines’ to sabotage industry, later planted computer viruses into equipment the Soviets were importing, poisoned progressive thought through media control. Proof of this is found in the so-called Mitrokhin Archives. KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin was for 30 years KGB archivist in foreign intelligence, and brought every conceivable secret when he defected to Britain in 1992.

Christopher Andrew’s Sword and the Shield (1992) and The KGB and the Battle for the Third World (2005), based on the archives show pathetically little in terms of subversion and no overarching plan to invade anywhere. Despite his anticommunist bias, Andrew shows that the KGB did little with the information it collected, which mostly involved technology acquisition, and which shows the reactive nature of Soviet undercover work—attempts to uncover sabotage by the West, use of blackmail to protect Soviet sources.

Canada’s most celebrated Soviet spy was Fred Rose, Canada’s one and only communist MP. In 1945, when the Soviet Union was branded as Canada’s enemy, this led to the arrest of Rose and denial of his parliamentary immunity, when he was found guilty of conspiring to turn over information about the explosive RDX44 to the Soviets. The Soviet defector Gouzenko had stolen documents from the Soviet embassy, and alleged that Rose was leading a spy ring of up to 20 Soviet spies.

He was never allowed to clear his name. Rose did not see sharing RDX information at the time as spying, as the Soviets were allies, doing most of the fighting against the Nazis, but he was quickly convicted. When released, his health broken, abandoned by his wife while in prison, he was unable to work, hounded by the RCMP, and finally emigrated to Poland. In later years, Rose admitted his error, saying, “I made one mistake in my life and I paid for it,” but he was denied the chance to clear his name of spying, as his Canadian citizenship was revoked in 1957, and his appeal was denied. Too late to matter, in 1958 Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Ellen Fairclough amended the Citizenship Act with the “Fred Rose amendment” so that such a removal of Canadian citizenship could never happen again.

“The horror of treason is sin against the spirit,” Chambers wrote in reviewing Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason for Time in 1947 (which, he boasts was read by ‘a million more or less’). But isn’t that what Chambers did? Hiss (sort of) betrayed (in the interests of world peace). But Chambers too betrayed. He betrayed his friends, and for what? Imperialism?

What about Forster’s “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country”? Especially if ‘my country’ is doing nasty things.

The muck of McCarthyism endures in our collective memory. Chambers’ recounting of his HUAC testimony is, as he puts it, comedy. The committee members (including Nixon who became his ‘valued friend’) were the uncouth, undignified, ungrammatical, rude and ruthless, as no decent members of congress wanted to serve on it. They were almost uniformly bigotted, emphasizing Jewish names when calling and interrogating witnesses. The images we remember, if any, are of Lauren Bacall and others marching in protest at the blacklisting and jailing of actors.

It’s hard not to pity Chambers, who saw himself as testifying for something, rather than against people who were once his intimate friends, that is, he was blind to the harm he was doing to them. The HUAC media farce couldn’t help but portray him as the bad guy, even as the Cold War clouds were gathering. Those ‘witnessing’ the Hiss trials didn’t really care much about microfiche spools in pumpkins (though that was entertaining). They were fascinated, appalled by fat, pompous Whittaker’s tattling on, betraying his handsome, intellectual friend Alger, culminating in his sensational interview on Meet the Press in 1948, ‘a savage assault with little restraint or decency,’ ‘fun for the boys, death for the frogs.4 How could he stoop to this sordid business? To what end?

He admits that he was ‘bringing ruin on the lives of so many people and … would never again really be able to live with myself.’ ‘The penalty is a kind of death, most deadly if a man must go on living. He admits his witnessing ‘destroyed himself to make his witness.’5 Hey, Whittaker, remember Stalin’s ‘you have to break eggs to make an omelette’?

Bacall and Bogarte and other stars battle HUAC

Bacall, Bogart and other stars battle HUAC

He bemoans ‘the death of religious faith’, and takes shelter in Quakerism, but no one was listening. All they heard is the ugly HUAC clatter. Watched their beloved Hollywood stars like John Garfield, nice guys like White, dying of heart attacks as humiliated martyrs. My heroes are those brave enough to protest at the risk of their own careers (Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracey, Humphrey Bogart….). The list of wonderful Americans who stood up to the anti-communist hysterics like Whittaker Chambers is long, and will be remembered long after Chambers et al are consigned to the dustbin of history.

Spydom’s legacy

Ethel Rosenberg

Whether or not Hiss et al were religious, whether or not they ‘sinned’ by breaking the law, they showed far more ‘spirit’ than newly christianized Chambers and Bentley. The victims have been slowly rehabilitated starting in the 1960s with Dalton Trumbo openly credited with the screenplay of Spartacus (1960). In 2015, New York City Council issued a proclamation stating that “the government wrongfully executed Ethel Rosenberg,” and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer officially recognized, “the injustice suffered by Ethel Rosenberg and her family,” and declared her birthday, September 28, “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.” In March 2016, Michael and Robert (via the Rosenberg Fund for Children) launched a petition campaign calling on President Obama to formally exonerate their mother. 60 Minutes presented the story of the Rosenberg children and their quest for justice.

While Chambers was loudly lauded in his 1961 obits, Bentley (whose victims numbered 80) was passed over. Already by the 1960s, people were tired of the spy mania, and rightly, as the Soviet spies were (misguided?) idealists, each one a personal tragedy, shot down by traitors-to-the-cause. Few besides the Reagans and Buckleys remembers Chambers or Bentley et al as noble patriots, rightly, as they were (excuse me) rats escaping/ scuttling their ship, betraying their friends. It seems Hiss really was on Soviet spy lists, as revealed when archives were opened after 1991. Whether he was a ‘card-carrying communist’ and lied, I don’t know and don’t care.

I do know that such spies as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Rudolph Abel and Kim Philby are now admired and increasingly honoured for their idealism and courage. They spied in the interests of humanity, against imperialism. I’m with them. Eat cake, Whittaker.

Witness was dusted off for its 50th anniversary in 2002, with a foreword by William F Buckley, who recalls that only two years after its publication ‘almost total silence had closed in on him.’ In his foreword, Robert Novak, relying on Hungarian archives, harrumphs: So, the case is closed. Hiss was a liar, spy and traitor. But these inveterate Cold Warriors are wrong on all counts: communism was not the all-powerful ogre intent on war and conquest, it was wrong to betray you friends for believing what you did and then didn’t.

Chambers’ ‘valued friend’, Nixon, made detente with the evil commies his greatest legacy. As communism mellowed, it turns out Christianity and communism are reconcilable after all.

As the red scare and blacklist unravelled in the 1950s, the journalist who led the expose of Chambers in 1948, David Sentner, went on to arrange a visit by William Hearst Jr with Khrushchev in 1956, which won a Pulitzer Prize, leaving Chambers’ plans to orchestrate the destruction of the communist ‘jet plane’ in shambles.

So where is Chambers/ Bentley’s legacy? Down there in Dante’s Ninth Circle—the “lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven”—with real American traitors like Jonathan Pollard (who gave away lots of genuine secrets) sentenced to life in 1987, granted Israeli citizenship in 1995, who despite Israeli pleas/ whining, is still under house arrest after 28 years in prison. Now there’s a real traitor — for all but the Israelis, who paint murals and name buildings (in east Jerusalem) in his honour.

  1. Benn Steil, The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order (2013).
  2. Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952), Foreword as a letter to my children, p. 38.
  3. Ibid., p. 499.
  4. Ibid., p. 702.
  5. Ibid., pp. 710, 693.

Hollywood reboots Russophobia for the New Cold War

​It is an age-old question as to the extent art reflects the world we live in. Bertolt Brecht allegedly said to the contrary that art was “not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” The Marxist German playwright devised theatrical methods designed to distance the audience from the staged drama while drawing self-reflexive attention to the contrived nature of the spectacle itself. The idea was that by estranging the spectator and encouraging critical examination, they would come to view society’s manmade injustices as similarly unnatural and be given agency to transform them in the real world. One of the implications of Brecht’s notion was that art in its more conventional forms often functions as a tool of mass persuasion for those in power to reinforce those inequities. Marx and Engels themselves professed to have learned more about the contradictions of French society from the novels of Honoré de Balzac, which upheld the monarchy and the Church, than any historians or philosophers of their day. At its very worst, artistic mediums can be used by governments to manipulate a nation’s attitude towards other countries in order to justify war.

Brecht’s life and work coincided with the development of the film industry. However, most productions influenced by his ‘epic theatre’ were art-house and foreign films while commercial, mass-market Hollywood movies placed greater emphasis on appealing to the emotions over intellect. However, there were some exceptions such as Charlie Chaplin who not coincidentally was persecuted for his politics by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the Red Scare. In the Cold War, Tinseltown played an important role in the cultural battlefield against the USSR and anti-Soviet paranoia was an ever-present theme in American cinema for decades, from the McCarthy era until the Berlin Wall fell. Contemporaneously, a revival of geopolitical tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation — which many have dubbed a second Cold War — has seen the return of such tropes on the silver screen. Most recently, it has resurfaced in popular web television shows such as the third season of Netflix’s retro science fiction/horror series Stranger Things, as well as HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, which dramatizes the 1986 nuclear accident in Soviet Ukraine.

It was a famous cinematic work that many believe ominously foreshadowed Chernobyl in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 science fiction film, Stalker, less than a decade prior to the calamity. It is unlikely that HBO would have been as interested in green-lighting a five-part program on the disaster without the current hysteria surrounding the unproven allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and ‘collusion’ between Moscow and the Trump campaign. ‘Russiagate’ has become a national obsession and suddenly the very idea of corruption and intrigue has been made synonymous with the Kremlin. Hollywood liberal figures have been some of the hoax’s biggest proponents, including the show’s writer, Craig Mazin. It is equally as hard to imagine Americans themselves being as captivated by a re-enactment of the nuclear accident without the current political climate of fear-mongering bombarding them every day in corporate media. From the perspective of the U.S. political establishment, what better way to deflect attention away from its own sins than onto a manufactured adversary?

For instance, a recent Columbia University study found that sections of the Marshall Islands, which the U.S. acquired from Japan following WWII and conducted countless nuclear tests nearby in the Pacific, is significantly more radioactive than Chernobyl. The highest radiation levels were found on the Bikini atoll, where evacuated islanders were initially told they could return shortly after tests began in 1946 but have been waiting more than seventy years to come home. On other coral atolls in the island country such as Rogelapp, the U.S. Navy allowed the native population to return too soon knowing full well the food and water were highly contaminated, resulting in a generation with high birth defects and cancer rates. The U.S. ceded the territory in 1994 only after the Marshallese negotiated a meager $150 million in damages for their mistreatment while permitting the establishment of a U.S. ballistic missile defense test site targeting China. Unfortunately, the presstitutes are too preoccupied with sensational coverage of the recent accident at the Russian military base in Nyonoska, salivating at another prospective Chernobyl. Not to mention, the ongoing cover-up of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 in the U.S. vassal state of Japan.

Already featuring a non-native cast and in the English language spoken with British accents, HBO’s Chernobyl is loaded with historical inaccuracies. The narrative takes many liberties both for the purpose of entertainment value and to create blatant propaganda seemingly as intent on discrediting socialism as it is in demonizing Moscow. This is unsurprising considering that screenwriter Craig Mazin is not only an establishment liberal with Putin derangement syndrome but a vocal critic of Bernie Sanders who has even ludicrously attempted to tie the Senator from Vermont to Russiagate on social media. Mazin has virtue signaled about the show as a parable about global warming (“the flaws that led to Chernobyl are the same flaws shown by climate deniers”) while simultaneously denouncing the candidate in the 2020 Democratic field with arguably the most comprehensive climate plan, leaving aside whether Sanders’ New Dealism is genuine socialism. For centre-rightists, the climate crisis is not tied to capitalism which as Marx reportedly said, “tends to destroy its two sources of wealth, nature and human beings” but is merely the failure of individual corrupt leaders like Trump. Early on in the series, Mazin invents a fictional elderly Soviet official who points to a bust of Vladimir Lenin while invoking socialism to silence those urging an immediate evacuation of Pripyat in the initial days of the disaster.

Mazin takes further artistic license to assign a protagonist in the story in Valery Legasov (played by Jared Harris), the high-ranking chemist who led the inquiry of the disaster and testified before the International Atomic Energy Agency before committing suicide in 1987. The story deviates from factual events in order to portray the scientist as a honest official blowing the whistle on a bureaucratic government. While his sworn statement was indeed straightforward, in real life Legasov did not blame reactor design flaws and deviate from the official government account of “human error” or breach of protocol as portrayed in the series, nor was he a witness in the trial of the nuclear plant operators who were found to be at fault. This is entirely a work of fiction designed to depict an incompetent and secretive Soviet government to be the cause of the accident. One would have no idea this same state was capable of inventing human space travel or industrializing an agrarian society in a single decade, a feat which took the British more than a century to accomplish. Not to mention that the accident occurred while the USSR was undergoing market-oriented reforms, a period in which the Soviet economy was at its most de-centralized and on the verge of collapse during perestroika.

At every turn, Legasov is up against cartoonish authoritarian officials who attempt to cover-up the severity of the catastrophe, including one particularly absurd scene when a Soviet apparatchik threatens to throw him out of a helicopter to his death if he does not explain how a reactor works. The Soviet working class are not spared either, as miners are coerced at gunpoint by Soviet troops at the order of the coal minister to dig a sarcophagus underneath the reactor to prevent radioactive contamination of the country’s water supply with the promise of financial reward. However, by all accounts no such use of the military ever took place and is contradicted by Legasov’s own statements which were not nearly as critical of state management as represented. The scientist had also attempted to take his own life once before while in the hospital suffering from radiation exposure, a more likely motive for his suicide. It is also rumored that the real reason for the Kremlin’s ‘secrecy’ about Chernobyl was that Pripyat was home to more than just a reactor-grade power station but possibly an undisclosed missile launching site or a facility producing warheads, with the meltdown a case of deliberate cyber sabotage by the C.I.A..

The series even finds time to rewrite WWII history in a scene where a stubborn babushka refuses to evacuate Pripyat, claiming to have endured worse surviving the Banderite hoax of the Holodomor. There was indeed a famine (throughout the entire USSR), but using the reconstruction of the tragedy to insert Ukrainian nationalist propaganda and Nazi myths of deliberate starvation is part of the West’s ongoing whitewashing of Ukrainian Nazi collaborators whose ultra-right descendants were instrumental in the 2014 Maidan coup. It is an insult to the Soviet people who sprung to action voluntarily and heroically to prevent the disaster from worsening to what could have left much of Europe uninhabitable, killed millions and caused incalculable damage to the environment. Then again, the West has never given the Soviets credit for defeating Germany, so it is to be expected they wouldn’t truly acknowledge the sacrifices made in Chernobyl.

During the 1980s as the Cold War reached a crescendo, Hollywood was churning out anti-Soviet movies marketed at teens like Red Dawn where a group of adolescents defend their small midwestern town from a fictional Soviet invasion. The same premise has been recycled for the most recent season of Netflix’s popular Stranger Things, a sci-fi horror vehicle carrying on the genre’s legacy of association with cold war paranoia going back to the 1950s with classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers which evoked domestic fears about communist infiltration in the form of an alien invasion.Stylishly imitative of the 1980s with a synth-heavy soundtrack, the first two seasons saw its young characters living in a fictional Indiana town, some of whom possess telekinetic powers, who battle paranormal beings from another dimension called the “Upside Down” on which a nearby U.S. Department of Energy facility has been secretly performing experiments.

The third season takes a different turn, however, where the adolescents go up against “evil Russians” and “Soviet scum” infiltrating the U.S. Perhaps it was for the better that Chernobyl decided to use British actors speaking in their own tongue because the Russians in Stranger Things are cartoonish, brute thugs that resemble Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. Even more absurdly, the children discover that a new local shopping mall in the town putting mom-and-pop stores out of business has been constructed by Russian operatives (not by multinational chains as it was in real life under Reaganism) to hide an underground laboratory. The preposterous sequence can only be interpreted as an expression of the anxiety underlying the U.S. decline and fear of the ascendancy of Moscow on the international stage. Like Chernobyl, the nostalgia-driven program disparages socialism as much as it villainizes Russia, including one ludicrous scene where a 10-year old black girl agrees to help the other kids on the condition they agree to give her free ice cream from the mall shop where several of the teens work. She then proceeds to lecture them on the purported benefits of trickle-down theory, because if anyone can appreciate the alleged rewards of Reaganomics with the reduction of social programs and spending cuts, it would be an African-American child during the 1980s.

It is apparent that the caricature of the Soviet Union in both productions is really a stand-in for the present-day Russian government under Vladimir Putin. As only American exceptionalism could permit, Hollywood did not hold the same disdain for his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, whose legacy of high inflation and national debt have since been eliminated. In fact, most have forgotten that the same filmdom community outraged about Russia’s supposed interference in the 2016 U.S. election made a celebratory movie back in 2003, Spinning Boris, which practically boasted about the instrumental role the West played in Yeltsin’s 1996 reelection in Russia. The highly unpopular alcoholic politician benefited from a near universal media bias as virtually all the federation’s news outlets came under the control of the ‘oligarchs’ (in America known simply as billionaires) which his economic policies of mass privatization of state industry enriched overnight. Yeltsin initially polled at less than 10% and was far behind Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov until he became the recipient of billions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) thanks to his corrupt campaign manager, Anatoly Chubais, now one of the most hated men in all of Russia. After the purging of votes and rampant ballot-box stuffing, Yeltsin successfully closed the gap between his opponent thanks to the overt U.S. meddling.

Spinning Boris was directed by Roger Spottiswoode, who previously helmed an installment in the James Bond series, Tomorrow Never Dies. The 1997 entry in the franchise is one of thousands of Hollywood films and network television shows exposed by journalists Matthew Alford and Tom Secker as having been influenced or directly assisted by the Pentagon and CIA in their must-read book National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood. Based on evidence from documents revealed in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, their investigation divulges the previously unknown extent to which the national security complex has gone in exerting control over content in the film industry. While it has always been known that the military held sway over movies that required usage of its facilities and equipment to be produced, the level of impact on such films in the pre-production and editing stages, as well as the control over non-military themed flicks one wouldn’t suspect to be under supervision by Washington and Langley, is exhaustively uncovered.

As expected, Hollywood and the military-industrial complex’s intimate relationship during the Cold War is featured prominently in Alford and Secker’s investigative work. It is unclear whether HBO or Netflix sought US military assistance or were directly involved with the national security state in their respective productions, but these are just two recent examples of many where the correlated increase in geopolitical tensions with Moscow is reflected. The upcoming sequel to DC’sWonder Woman set to be released next year, Wonder Woman 1984, featuring the female superhero “coming into conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1980s”, is yet another. Reprising her role is Israeli actress and IDF veteran Gal Gadot as the title character, ironically starring in a blockbuster that will demonize the Eurasian state which saved her ethnicity from extinction. Given the Pentagon’s involvement in the debacle surounding 2014’s The Interview which provoked very real tensions with North Korea, it is likely they are at least closely examining any entertainment with content regarding Russia, if not directly pre-approving it for review.

Ultimately, the Western panic about its imperial decline is not limited to assigning blame to Moscow. Sinophobia has manifested as well in recent films such as the 2016 sci-fi film Arrival where the extra-terrestrials who reach Earth seem more interested in communicating with Beijing as the global superpower than the U.S. However, while the West forebodes the return of Russia and China to greater standing, you can be certain its real fear lies elsewhere. The fact that Chernobyl and Stranger Things are as preoccupied with portraying socialism in a bad light as they are in rendering Moscow nefarious shows the real underlying trepidation of the ruling elite that concerns the resurgence of class consciousness. The West must learn its lesson that its state of perpetual war has caused its own downfall or it could attempt a last line of defense that would inevitably conscript all of humanity to its death as the ruling class nearly did to the world in 1914 and 1939.

The American Gulag

The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.”

— Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History, 2003

This is how freedom dies.

This is how you condition a populace to life as prisoners in a police state: by brainwashing them into believing they are free so that they will march in lockstep with the state and be incapable of recognizing the prison walls that surround them.

Face the facts: we are no longer free.

We in the American Police State may enjoy the illusion of freedom, but that is all it is: an elaborate deception, rooted in denial and delusion, that hides the grasping, greedy, power-hungry, megalomaniacal force that lurks beneath the surface.

Brick by brick, the prison walls being erected around us by the government and its corporate partners-in-crime grow more oppressive and more pervasive by the day.

Brick by brick, we are finding there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Brick by brick, we are being walled in, locked down and locked up.

That’s the curious thing about walls: they not only keep those on the outside from getting in, they also keep those on the inside from getting out.

Consider, if you will, some of the “bricks” in the police state’s wall that serve to imprison the citizenry: Red flag gun laws that strip citizens of their rights based on the flimsiest of pretexts concocted by self-serving politicians. Overcriminalization resulting in jail time for nonviolent offenses such as feeding stray cats and buying foreign honey. Military training drills—showy exercises in armed intimidation—and live action “role playing” between soldiers and “freedom fighters” staged in small rural communities throughout the country. Profit-driven speed and red light cameras that do little for safety while padding the pockets of government agencies. Overt surveillance that turns citizens into suspects.

Police-run facial recognition software that mistakenly labels law-abiding citizens as criminals. Punitive programs that strip citizens of their passports and right to travel over unpaid taxes. Government agents that view segments of the populace as “subhuman” and treat them accordingly. A social credit system (similar to China’s) that rewards behavior deemed “acceptable” and punishes behavior the government and its corporate allies find offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

These are just a small sampling of the oppressive measures used by the government to control and constrict the American people.

What these despotic tactics add up to is an authoritarian prison in every sense of the word.

Granted this prison may not appear as overtly bleak as the soul-destroying gulags described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his masterpiece The Gulag Archipelago, but that’s just a matter of aesthetics.

Strip away the surface embellishments and you’ll find the core is no less sinister than that of the gulags of the Cold War-era Soviet Union.

Those gulags, according to historian Anne Applebaum, used as a form of “administrative exile—which required no trial and no sentencing procedure—was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.”

The word “gulag” refers to a labor or concentration camp where prisoners (oftentimes political prisoners or so-called “enemies of the state,” real or imagined) were imprisoned as punishment for their crimes against the state. As Applebaum explains:

Over time, the word “Gulag” has also come to signify not only the administration of the concentration camps but also the system of Soviet slave labor itself, in all its forms and varieties: labor camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women’s camps, children’s camps, transit camps. Even more broadly, “Gulag” has come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself, the set of procedures that prisoners once called the “meat-grinder”: the arrests, the interrogations, the transport in unheated cattle cars, the forced labor, the destruction of families, the years spent in exile, the early and unnecessary deaths.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was such a political prisoner.

For the crime of daring to criticize Stalin in a private letter to a school friend, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to eight years in exile in a labor camp.

That was before psychiatry paved the way for totalitarian regimes such as the Soviet Union to declare dissidents mentally ill and consign political prisoners to prisons disguised as psychiatric hospitals, where they could be isolated from the rest of society, their ideas discredited, and subjected to electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures to break them physically and mentally.

In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers. Author George Kennan describes a process in which:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years.

Warrantless seizures, surveillance, indefinite detention, isolation, exile… sound familiar?

It should.

The age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by making them disappear—or forcing them to flee—or exiling them literally or figuratively or virtually from their fellow citizens—is happening with increasing frequency in America.

We saw it happen with Julian Assange. With Edward Snowden. With Bradley Manning.

They, too, were exiled for daring to challenge the powers-that-be.

It happened to 26-year-old decorated Marine Brandon Raub, who was targeted because of his Facebook posts, interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

Raub’s case exposed the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that is targeting Americans—especially military veterans—for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state.

Now, through the use of red flag laws, behavioral threat assessments, and pre-crime policing prevention programs, the government is laying the groundwork that would allow it to weaponize the label of mental illness as a means of exiling those whistleblowers, dissidents and freedom fighters who refuse to march in lockstep with its dictates.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) its critics is diabolically brilliant. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these individuals are declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.

These developments are merely the realization of various U.S. government initiatives dating back to 2009, including one dubbed Operation Vigilant Eagle which calls for surveillance of military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, characterizing them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

Coupled with the report on “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” issued by the Department of Homeland Security (curiously enough, a Soviet term), which broadly defines right wing extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government. Although these initiatives caused an initial uproar when announced in 2009, they were quickly subsumed by the ever-shifting cacophony of the news media and its ten-day cycles.

Yet while the American public may have forgotten about the government’s plans to identify and disable anyone deemed a potential “threat,” the government has put its plan into action.

Thus, what began as a blueprint under the Bush administration has become an operation manual under the Obama and Trump administrations to exile those who are challenging the government’s authority.

An important point to consider, however, is that the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is locking up individuals trained in military warfare who are voicing feelings of discontent.

Under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as ticking time bombs in need of intervention.

For instance, the Justice Department launched a pilot program aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

One tactic being used to deal with so-called “mentally ill suspects who also happen to be trained in modern warfare” is through the use of civil commitment laws, found in all states and employed throughout American history to not only silence but cause dissidents to disappear.

For example, in 2006, NSA officials attempted to label former employee Russ Tice, who was willing to testify in Congress about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, as “mentally unbalanced” based upon two psychiatric evaluations ordered by his superiors.

In 2009, NYPD Officer Adrian Schoolcraft had his home raided, and he was handcuffed to a gurney and taken into emergency custody for an alleged psychiatric episode. It was later discovered by way of an internal investigation that his superiors were retaliating against him for reporting police misconduct. Schoolcraft spent six days in the mental facility, and as a further indignity, was presented with a bill for $7,185 upon his release.

In 2012, it was Virginia’s civil commitment law that was used to justify arresting and detaining Marine Brandon Raub—a 9/11 truther—in a psychiatric ward based on posts he had made on his Facebook page that were critical of the government.

Incredibly, in Virginia alone, over 20,000 people annually are forced into psychiatric wards by way of so-called Emergency Custody Orders and civil commitment procedures.

Each state has its own set of civil, or involuntary, commitment laws. These laws are extensions of two legal principles: parens patriae Parens patriae (Latin for “parent of the country”), which allows the government to intervene on behalf of citizens who cannot act in their own best interest, and police power, which requires a state to protect the interests of its citizens.

The fusion of these two principles, coupled with a shift towards a dangerousness standard, has resulted in a Nanny State mindset carried out with the militant force of the Police State.

The problem, of course, is that the diagnosis of mental illness, while a legitimate concern for some Americans, has over time become a convenient means by which the government and its corporate partners can penalize certain “unacceptable” social behaviors.

In fact, in recent years, we have witnessed the pathologizing of individuals who resist authority as suffering from oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), defined as “a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures.” Under such a definition, every activist of note throughout our history—from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr.—could be classified as suffering from an ODD mental disorder.

Of course, this is all part of a larger trend in American governance whereby dissent is criminalized and pathologized, and dissenters are censored, silenced, declared unfit for society, labelled dangerous or extremist, or turned into outcasts and exiled.

Red flag gun laws, growing in popularity as a legislative means by which to seize guns from individuals viewed as a danger to themselves or others, are a perfect example of this mindset at work. “We need to stop dangerous people before they act”: that’s the rationale behind the NRA’s support of these red flag laws, and at first glance, it appears to be perfectly reasonable to want to disarm individuals who are clearly suicidal and/or pose an “immediate danger” to themselves or others.

Where the problem arises, of course, is when you put the power to determine who is a potential danger in the hands of government agencies, the courts and the police.

Remember, this is the same government that uses the words “anti-government,” “extremist” and “terrorist” interchangeably.

This is the same government whose agents are spinning a sticky spider-web of threat assessments, behavioral sensing warnings, flagged “words,” and “suspicious” activity reports using automated eyes and ears, social media, behavior sensing software, and citizen spies to identify potential threats.

This is the same government that keeps re-upping the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the military to detain American citizens with no access to friends, family or the courts if the government believes them to be a threat.

This is the same government that has a growing list—shared with fusion centers and law enforcement agencies—of ideologies, behaviors, affiliations and other characteristics that could flag someone as suspicious and result in their being labeled potential enemies of the state.

This is the same government that has, along with its corporate counterparts (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc.), made it abundantly clear at all levels (whether it be the FBI, NSA, local police, school personnel, etc.) that they want no one challenging their authority.

This is a government that pays lip service to the nation’s freedom principles while working overtime to shred the Constitution.

Yes, this is a prison, all right.

Thus, for those who take to the streets to constitutionally express their opinions and beliefs, rows of riot police, clad in jackboots, military vests, and helmets, holding batons, stun guns, assault rifles, and sometimes even grenade launchers, are there to keep them in line.

For those who take to social media to express their opinions and beliefs, squadrons of AI censors are there to shadow-ban them and keep them in line.

As for that wall President Trump keeps promising to build, it’s already being built, one tyranny at a time, transforming our constitutional republic into a carceral state.

Yet be warned: in a carceral state, there are only two kinds of people: the prisoners and the prison guards.

In a carceral state—a.k.a. a prison state or a police state—there is no difference between the treatment meted out to a law-abiding citizen and a convicted felon: both are equally suspect and treated as criminals, without any of the special rights and privileges reserved for the governing elite.

With every new law enacted by federal and state legislatures, every new ruling handed down by government courts, and every new military weapon, invasive tactic and egregious protocol employed by government agents, “we the people”—the prisoners of the American police state—are being pushed that much further into a corner, our backs against the prison wall.

This concept of a carceral state in which we possess no rights except for that which the government grants on an as-needed basis is the only way I can begin to comprehend, let alone articulate, the irrational, surreal, topsy-turvy, through-the-looking-glass state of affairs that is being imposed upon us in America today.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we who pretend we are free are no different from those who spend their lives behind bars.

You see, by gradually whittling away at our freedoms—free speech, assembly, due process, privacy, etc.—the government has, in effect, liberated itself from its contractual agreement to respect the constitutional rights of the citizenry while resetting the calendar back to a time when we had no Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the government.

Aided and abetted by the legislatures, the courts and Corporate America, the government has been busily rewriting the contract (a.k.a. the Constitution) that establishes the citizenry as the masters and agents of the government as the servants. We are now only as good as we are useful, and our usefulness is calculated on an economic scale by how much we are worth—in terms of profit and resale value—to our “owners.”

Under the new terms of this revised, one-sided agreement, the government and its many operatives have all the privileges and rights and “we the prisoners” have none.

The Reality Brokers (or the rise of the Automagicians)

In the case of both Big Tech and governmental surveillance agencies, undergirding a commitment to the inevitable and imminent time after-Earth is the appeal of science fiction aesthetics, concepts and projects, all aimed toward the new goal of having new places and opportunities to conquer, colonize and dominate post-Earth.
— Sarah T. Roberts, b-20, August 2019

We live in a society where capital is highly concentrated, with most commodity production carried out by companies whose fates are largely shaped by financial investors. The commodities they produce, whether material or immaterial, are made available to us in a global marketplace, delivered through complex value chains in whose operation our own unpaid labor as consumers is increasingly implicated. Information and communications technologies have so affected the spatial and temporal division of labor that for many of us the boundaries between “work and private life are inextricably muddled and few relationships are unmediated by them.
— Ursula Huws, Labor in the Global Digital Economy, December 5, 2014

It’s popular to refer to digital platforms as town squares, but the shopping mall is a more apt metaphor: they are built to approximate the participatory feel of an open market, while their corridors are ruthlessly designed for the purposes of encouraging consumption and maximizing profit. Depression, anxiety, hate-mongering, fear, and conspiratorial untruths are all acceptable outcomes so long as they are expressed, consciously or otherwise, in the service of growth.
— Evan Malmgren, The Baffler, 2018

Your whole life will be searchable.
— Larry Page (quoted in Douglas Edwards’ I’m Feeling Lucky), 2011

At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience.
— Shoshana Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism, January 15, 2019

The endless public appetite for apocalyptic film and TV is tied into the fantasies of reconstruction. Even the various zombie franchises are really just reconstruction stories (albeit with a huge real estate porn appeal). I want to quote Sarah T. Roberts article again, because she covers several factors that seem increasingly embedded in contemporary thinking.

In the billionaire kingmaker class, Musk is not alone in his post-Earth predilection. Indeed, he is one of several of his echelon looking cynically to science fiction and the après-apocalypse, fantasizing about outlandish ways to spend–and make–profits via projects that deepen long-standing commitments to Western supremacy and colonization, albeit with a futuristic bent. At the 2016 Republican National Convention that heralded the political ascendency of Donald Trump, PayPal billionaire and Gawker/journalism foe Peter Thiel (Thompson 2018) hailed the conquest of Mars as a worthier endeavor than wars in the Middle East. In doing so, Thiel inadvertently showed his ideological hand by invoking both as equivalent games of conquest (Daily Beast 2016). Other projects in this vein include Biosphere 2 (once the province of former Trump advisor and professional propagandist Steve Bannon), HI-SEAS, Apple’s new “Spaceship” headquarters, and the NSA’s Star Trek-inspired control room, all of which posit various offworld-oriented technological solutions to a dying future. It is a future in which capitalism has already played out the dissolution of democracy and social equalities, favoring a libertarian fend-for-yourself approach for those who remain– and those who remain, according to these projects, are overwhelmingly White, wealthy able-bodied people of the Global North.
— Sarah T. Roberts (Ibid.)

Roberts also touches on Apple’s new *campus*, which is shaped like a flying saucer and seems designed mostly to keep undesirables out as much as employees in.

Roberts again…

The spaceship aesthetic and panoptic/open floor work spaces reinstate order and hierarchy through structural and embedded surveillance while suggesting freedom of movement and action. Ample amenities are designed to keep workers on-site and productive, ideally for longer than an eight-hour workday, recalling the company towns of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Not to be outdone, both Google and Facebook have announced employee housing near their expansive campuses (Stangel 2017), in partial response to extraordinary housing costs in Silicon Valley (created by the demand from their own workers).

There is also the new NSA control room, which merges sci-fi aesthetics with Benthamesque practicality and Biosphere 2 which borrows directly from science fiction. This is a long sort of introduction to what I see as an increasing anger and frustration in western white populations that is born of the unshakable sense that white modernity is coming to an end. There is an increasing global awareness that U.S. (and EU..but the EU is hugely divided in this respect) hegemony is unravelling. The global ruling class share the same goals but have mostly allowed or been served by U.S. leadership in terms of international financial institutions and the U.N. and just by U.S. military dominance. But today there are growing areas of the planet that are openly rejecting the white supremacist capitalism/imperialism of the U.S. (and its proxies, Saudi Arabia and Israel primarily. Yes I know there are huge contradictions in that, but I will get to those). The effects of Hollywood in all this are almost incalculable. The future is built with Hollywood image and narrative, and increasingly so is the present. Narrative thinking today is tied in with Hollywood screenwriting in a near total manner.

And the effects of the internet, social media, and in general screen addictions and indoctrination have yet to be fully calculated. And this segues into the realities of content moderation. And, again, a crash course on this is to listen to a lecture of Roberts here or watch here.

And remember, too, what Andre Damon at WSWS wrote in 2018:

Social media is monopolized by a few gigantic corporations. And that concentration of control is going to obviously be exploited for more profit.

…let’s start with a shocking fact: bad behavior happens on the internet. It occurs in real life, too, of course. But there is a special quality to the depravity exhibited on social media that is particular to that domain. On the one hand, it is unthinking, and in the case of Twitter, this goes along with the character limit. But it also demonstrates a psychopathic character contradiction: an obsession with self-perception by others in combination with a disturbing lack of empathy toward many of those same others from whom one is seeking, implicitly or explicitly, validation. For many researchers, this behavior is not merely expressed on but actively shaped by social media. In a meta-analysis of seventy-two studies, the psychologist Sara Konrath and her research team found that empathy levels among college students are 40 percent lower today than they were twenty years ago — a development they attribute to, amongst other things, the “rising prominence” of “media use in everyday life”: “With so much time spent interacting with others online rather than in reality, interpersonal dynamics such as empathy might certainly be altered.
— Benjamin Y. Fong, Jacobin, 2018

There is a correlate here, found in that same Sarah Konrath study:

One especially relevant program of research finds increasing levels of narcissism in American college students from the mid-1980s until late into the first decade of the new millennium, using similar cross-temporal methods as in the current study (Twenge et al., 2008; Twenge & Foster, 2008,2010).Dispositional narcissists have inflated self-views, especially on agentic traits such as power and intelligence (e.g., Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002). Although narcissists are extraverted, they think of others primarily in terms of their utility rather than as interdependent relationship partners (Campbell, 1999). When narcissists’ egos are threatened by rejection or an insult, they tend to aggress against the source of the threat (e.g., Bushman & Baumeister, 1998; Konrath, Bushman, & Campbell, 2006).
— Sarah Konrath, et.al., Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta Analysis, Personality and Social Psychology Review 2011

Whether it’s Twitter or Snapchat or whatever, the overriding quality associated with each platform is limited space for expression and impermanence. Snapchat is designed to literally disappear before your eyes. Twitter is particularly pathological in that it is all but impossible to have discussions, or debates there, but excels at individual declarations of fact — the users own sense of ‘fact’, that is. It has been noted by several studies about social media that those who engage in prolonged use tend to increasingly feel real life face to face interaction as persecutory. My own experience of Twitter and Facebook is that it directly breeds paranoia. And for dissident or radical left voices that paranoia is already well established, usually. It’s hard to be a socialist in America and not feel paranoia.

The first configuration is what I came to call the Vampires’ Castle. The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.
— Mark Fisher, Vampire’s Castle, 2013

Now Fisher is a contested figure, and with good reason (for all this insight he remained a strangely reactionary voice, and that contradiction may have been impossible for him to live with). But what he describes in Vampire’s Castle is very much to the point here. And one of the tactics of social media attacks is to stigmatize in isolation (a sort of form of essentialism). And this is akin to the bullying that high school students suffer from, too, a bullying that has led to spikes in suicide and self harm. It is ridicule that borders on arbitrary. One is tried and convicted on social media for crimes of the past, often, and, of course, often for crimes that never took place, and often for non-crimes. Mischaracterizing one’s opponent is the classic technique of the fascist right, but today it is cropping up more and more often on the left. But the new essentialism is also perilously close to conspiracy theory at its very worst. I know people, very smart people, in fact, who literally believe that entire outlets or groups or institutions — having hundreds of members — are in the grip of secret cabals of fascists. A thought mechanism that mirrors classic antisemitism. And speaking of antisemitism, the rising and continuing anti-semitism on the left is meeting with less and less resistance from the left who feel encouraged to conflate zionism and Jewishness.

Now the new aesthetics of the new doomsday scenarioists of online polemics, and in real life (the doomsayers who are billionaires) are the aesthetics of 1970s science fiction, if not 1950s science fiction. It is remarkable how durable the style and codes are of stuff like The Day the Earth Stood StillRed Planet Mars, or the original War of the Worlds. And more, 70s films like Andromeda Strain or Dark Star. Even very good and rather un-Hollywood films such as Man Who Fell to Earth have shaped the current sense of what the future means, and more, what apocalypse looks like. Just look at the art/design layouts and images used in stories about global warming or the fear mongering of the overpopulationers. Tell me it’s not nearly always from science fiction and/or is not racist. That a global environmental crisis is being packaged by media as if it were an early John Carpenter film should cause concern.

So three things I sense are related here. One is the damage of screen addictions, and, perhaps more specifically, social media. And the manner of expression that is wed to the alarmist’s sense of environmental crises. To deal with the real and material crisis would require a capacity to think in ways that social media and screen habituation have discouraged if not erased. The psychological affect of decades (now) of internet coercions and indoctrination — overt and incidental — and the very damages of just over-exposure to the technology itself are huge and perhaps nearly irreversible. Internet societies are more rigidly hierarchical than society itself. It is just masked better. The second issue is the issues of synthesizing time, narration, and loss of literacy. And the third is the dying death throws of global capital and its desire to perpetuate itself even if it means mass death, and the fantasies of this capitalist ruling class, expressed in regressive tropes of kitsch science fiction and space colonialism.

There is also a strange inversion, one that is nearly dialectical, actually. On the one hand the so called advanced West, the hyper capitalist neo-liberal West and its major telecom and digital corporations, are at work 24/7 in surveillance and data gathering. And both of these activities are usually illegal. Those same mega corporations (with intimate ties to western governments) are in the business of *hiding* the production processes that build those smart phones and lap tops on which, and with which, the bourgeoisie of the west amuse themselves. The devices that these corporations spy on and steal from — these devices are not the product of immaculate technological conception. The mythology of the information age has, as one huge factor, maybe THE hugest factor, the presumption that all of this digital technology was just divinely created and fell to earth. The invisibility of the draconian assembly lines and factories of the global south that produce and assemble these mythic devices is both an intentional practice and one those firms know is deceitful. They hide it because it would be offensive to the consumers of these products. A consumer base increasingly exhibiting a green awareness (sic). Not to mention the even more draconian waste sites where disposal of these devices take place, in countries such as Philippines, Bangladesh, Ghana, and Indonesia.

This does not even touch on the mining and earth extraction of rare earth minerals such as coltan (from which niobium and tantalum are taken), yttrium, lanthanum, and terbium.

According to the Minerals Education Coalition, a baby born in the US today will use up 539 lbs of zinc, 903 lbs of lead and 985 lbs of copper during his or her lifetime, not just in phones but in other gadgets and appliances too. In terms of environmental drain from every smartphone that’s made, you can add the oil used to produce plastics, the sand used to produce glass, and so on. ( ) Of the 83 stable and non-radioactive elements in the periodic table, at least 70 can be found in smartphones. According to the best available figures, a total of 62 different types of metals go into the average mobile handset, with what are known as the rare Earth metals playing a particularly important role. Of the 17 rare Earth metals, 16 are included in phones.
— David Nield, Tech Radar, 2015

My sense is that most Americans could be convinced to give up nearly everything to ensure a livable safe future…everything except their screen gadgets.

Larry Page of Google has used (and coined) the word *automagical*. It’s the perfect word for contemporary thought. The west thinks automagically. But that sounds benign, and nothing about the trends in contemporary behavior or thinking is benign. Zuboff quotes John Searle about the nature of *declarations*. Searle wrote:“A declaration is a particular way of speaking and acting that establishes facts out of thin air, creating a new reality where there was nothing.” This is highly relevant to the social media user. This is, in fact, that on which Twitter is based. It is the speech of Kings and overlords, of pharaohs. It is also how cops talk to suspects (i.e., everyone not a cop). Most importantly it is the speech of institutions. It assumes authority.

Zuboff also notes that this sort of authoritarian speech and grammar is the province of Google, and of Google’s unprecedented power. That said, it is power of a unique and perhaps unprecedented kind. For if conquistadors issued declarations that indigenous peoples were to be vassals…WERE already so…the threats behind such declarations were made clear. Google doesn’t have to do that. No giant information and telecom giant has to do that. The threat is assumed. The threat is implanted.

Google’s stores of behavioral surplus now embrace everything in the online milieu: searches, e-mails, texts, photos, songs, messages, videos, locations, communication patterns, attitudes, preferences, interests, faces, emotions, illnesses, social networks, purchases, and so on. A new continent of behavioral surplus is spun each moment from the many virtual threads of our everyday lives as they collide with Google, Facebook, and, more generally, every aspect of the internet’s computer-mediated architecture. Indeed, under the direction of surveillance capitalism the global reach of computer mediation is repurposed as an extraction architecture.
— Shoshana Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism

Everything one does is turned into code. And that code is returned to the user (as Zubhoff writes) through the filter of *intelligent algorithms*. And if that sounds like *smart bombs*, it’s because it is, and that is, to put it mildly, disquieting. Anytime intelligent or smart are used in titles or branding, the opposite is usually true. Much as the use of *freedom* in any NGO title signals State Department front group. But the issue that runs alongside the literal monitoring of everything one does is the now third generation effects of the information age on the young. The bullying of social media is only one symptom. Mental illness is now almost expected of teenagers. In the U.S. and U.K., in particular, the anxiety, paranoia, and feelings of hopelessness are endemic. And, of course, this cannot be treated by the institutions that have caused it. At best the establishment simply finds new warehousing drugs to give them. The burden to conform is enormous for teenagers and made worse by the pathologies of social media and internet habituation.

Deleuze and Guattari saw schizophrenia as the presentation of capitalist illness as it approached the 1980s, and later Christian Marazzi suggested bi-polar disorder as the new inner logic of financialized capitalism. Then today the post post modern new feudalism presents as autism, a condition first brought to awareness by a Nazi doctor. If teenagers today suffer debilitating anxiety, and a generalized fear of ‘doing’ anything lest it appear in Snapchat later in the afternoon, the result is an increasing cognitive paralysis. One teacher I know said several different high school students have confessed their inability to act or speak, answering questions etc, that even that inability and low grades is better than internet shaming and stigmatizing. Older twenty somethings, out of school and usually unemployed, wander their American neighborhoods in what amount to semi conscious trance states. Another teacher, in suburban LA, said his small college has decided to let student homeless sleep in their cars at one end of the school parking lot. After the school board passed this measure they were startled to learn that over 20% of the student body were, in fact, living out of their cars and sleeping in the school lot.

The western economies, and this is certainly true of the U.S., are propped up by militarism, stock market manipulation, and the ongoing theft of public funds and social services.

Cutting across this are the pathologies and social violence of social media.

Social media is designed for comparisons and coupled to the narrowed limits for written expression, the function of image becomes disproportionately important. But the interpretation of image is equally or more important. The idea of popularity is implanted in the system by the owners and operators of that system. The capture of eyeballs is also the capture of consensus. This is particularly true for the young.

The empty debate on the spectacle – that is, on the activities of the world’s owners – is thus organised by the spectacle itself: everything is said about the exten­sive means at its disposal, to ensure that nothing is said about their extensive deployment. Rather than talk of the spectacle, people often prefer to use the term ‘media’. And by this they mean to describe a mere instrument, a kind of public service which with impartial ‘professionalism’ would facilitate the new wealth of mass communication through mass media – a form of communication which has at last attained a unilateral purity, whereby decisions already taken are presented for passive admiration. For what is commu­nicated are orders; and with perfect harmony, those who give them are also those who tell us what they think of them.
— Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 1967

Orders, declarations. The desire to punish, the desire to be right. The isolation and atomization of social media users contributes to this sense of priesthood and specialness — by which I mean that when one writes, for publication or just as a diarist, the activity is hugely different than writing for social media. The isolation and contemplation of the writer at his keyboard becomes a manic anxious isolation, a cruel imposed isolation that sits in stark contrast to contemplative creation. The rapidity and constant reinforcements that are built into social media are there to keep the attention of the user, for such attention is money, is profit.

What is interesting is how so much of the opinion expressed by the left today is expressed in terms of masculine power or just a replication of militarism’s scorched earth policies. Carpet bombing — from what is now North Korea, terror bombing Belgrade, shock and awe, or bunker busters in Tora Bora, or the war crimes of Fallujah, the endless atrocities inflicted on the global south — the war zone sensibility of racist domestic police forces in the U.S., this is all mirrored and reproduced on social media. Social media has become a laboratory for aggression. But in tiny ever shrinking platforms. Carpet bombing in 280 characters. The sense of shrinkage and enclosure, of foreclosure and agitation, these are design elements. (Why do Silicon Valley CEOs not allow their children to use smart phones? Why do those children go to device free schools?)

The only way that socialist and radical political voices can engage on social media — it seems to me — is to find ways to disrupt the hegemonic orders of the Spectacle. Social media is designed to create a craving for attention. At any cost. Unconscious cravings. This is why the tribalism of likes and blocking and *friends* is so constantly reinforced.

In one sense the mega corporate owners have insured that class is replaced by individualism, identitarian relations and presentation.

When Twitter began the limit for a tweet was 140 characters. The average tweet at that point was 34 characters. Twitter increased the tweet count to 280 characters but the average tweet is now only 33 characters. I suspect this reflects the trend toward inarticulate semi-languages. The trend toward quick scans rather than patient reading.

Critical theory’s effort to restore subjectivity and resist domination rightly leads to the search for and rejection of all tendencies that cause the subject to introject and reproduce his own domination.
— Amy Buzby, Subterranean Politics and Freud’s Legacy, August 14, 2013

Social media, perhaps above all else, encourages obsessive repetitions. Obsessive compulsive disorder is expressed in pure form as Twitter or Snapchat or Facebook. The repetitive behavioral action of keystrokes mimics something industrial, something also nearly manic. And in this sense the bi-polar metaphor remains rather apt. But the emptiness of the screen, the temporal limits, the erasure of lasting meaning, all feel autistic. The social media addiction eventually neutralizes meaning altogether. Trump is oddly the perfect Twitter user. Lies, contradictions, more lies, repeating the lies, and on and on. All without meaning.

All social media rage is reproducing personal pain — at one level. It is also, on another level, reflecting the trauma and violence of the society in which the users live. The compulsive Twitter user, or Facebook troll — and in a sense perhaps everyone shares troll like characteristics simply by virtue of using these platforms — are caught in a habituation cycle of need and pseudo gratification. But addiction metaphors miss the broader point here. Internet use is often likely compulsive, and perhaps constitutes a habituation, but rarely reaches the level of addiction (addictions must produce serious real world consequences for the addict). What is the most disturbing aspect of social media and internet use overall is ideological and educational. The internet, and in particular social media, have damaged cognitive abilities, and have incrementally created two (now) generations (if not three) of people who cannot think outside very narrow cyber structures. Ideologically because the internet is in the business of constantly grabbing your attention and trying to keep it; and information is dispensed via attention grabbing mechanisms and strategies. No internet platform is free of the profit motive, remember. And cyber profit is based on an attention economy. The click bait model can be expanded to anything. And the repetitive nature of social media usage reinforces a tendency already present in western capitalist societies. And, of course, class enters in this discussion exactly here. The loss of employment opportunity and social mobility encourages a recourse to social media and the internet to replace community.

It is also important to distinguish between the attention economy and newer participatory attention economy or what Boutgang labeled Cognitive Capitalism. (see Mackenzie Wark’s analysis here

Cognitive workers are in a sense entrepreneurs, are in a sense people who invest their knowledge, who invest their singular ability and in this sense the relationship, the integration between work, cognitive work and enterprise; and enterprise has a materialistic foundation. But at the same time this kind of integration has produced an ideological effect and a kind of psycho-pathogenic effect on the social forces of cognitive labor. ( ) The Prozac economy and the Prozac crash. The integration of cognitive work and recombinant capital has produced a kind of euphoria, of hyper-excitation and has produced a demotion, an erasing, a forgetting of the physical, the erotic and the social body of the cognitive worker. We have been taken in this kind of irrational exuberance and we have forgotten that we have a body – that we are a body. So the cognitive worker in this kind of hyper-excitation completely or partially has been forgetting the relationship to the society and the relationship to the physical body.
— Frano Berardi, Market Ideology, Semiocapitalism, and the Digital Congitariat,

Berardi’s (Bifo) article is worth reading in its entirety here.

In 1995, 10 years into the history of mobile phones, penetration in the UK was just 7%,” according to Professor Nigel Linge, of the University of Salford’s Computer Networking and Telecommunications Research Centre. “In 1998 it was about 25%, but by 1999 it was 46%, that was the ‘tipping point’. In 1999 one mobile phone was sold in the UK every 4 seconds.” By 2004, there were more mobile phones in the UK than people – a penetration level of more than 100%. ( ) The way that handsets themselves were marketed was also changing and it was Finland’s Nokia, which had been fighting hard with Motorola and Ericsson for dominance of the market, who made the leap from phones as technology to phones as fashion items with the Nokia 3210 device.

“The Nokia 3210 is iconic because it is the first phone that deliberately did not display any sort of external aerial,” explains Linge. “Nokia in the late 1990s cottoned on to the fact that the mobile phone was a fashion item: so it allowed interchangeable covers, you could customise and personalise your handset.”

In 1999, the film The Matrix was released, which featured Nokia’s 8110 handset prominently. Nokia followed it up with the 7110, which was also the first device to fully exploit the new WAP mobile data service, the fore-runner of the 3G services of today.
— Richard Wray, Guardian, 2010

Hollywood again. The future again. One might argue The Matrix is the most influential film in history — not because it’s any good, it’s not, but because it consolidated several threads of style and futuristic fantasy and presented them in an appealing package, one that also appealed to the new automagical thinking. The reality today is that global capital can draw upon a reserve of global labour regardless of national borders. As Ursula Huws notes in Labour in Contemporary Capitalism, 2019:

Even when casualised labour is not carried out by their direct employees, it is carried out within the scope of the increasingly elaborated value chains which these companies control.

And this casualization and global context has generated enormous resentment against migrant workers, especially in areas of industrial decline (per Huws). Hence the rise of the far right parties across Europe today. And the theft of social benefits, stuff like unemployment payments, are increasingly hard to actually receive and when received are provincial and conditional. The point is that the internet has transformed human life in its entirety. And often, maybe nearly always, for the worse. Shoshana Zuboff (Ibid.) has the final word here, for this is what all of this discussion is trending toward:

The prospect of guaranteed outcomes alerts us to the force of the prediction imperative, which demands that surveillance capitalists make the future for the sake of predicting it. Under this regime, ubiquitous computing is not just a knowing machine; it is an actuating machine designed to produce more certainty about us and for them.

This is largely what Debord saw happening too. The profit from reliable forecasting and prediction means that creating the future is the best strategy — if you make the future you can predict it with some certainty. People need to realize, I think, that EVERYTHING online is manufactured reality — it’s not real, it’s pseudo real. And marketings job is to convince you that pseudo real is REAL REAL. And if the result of this is increased mental illness and pathological degrees of aggression, and industrial levels of anti-depressant use, well, so what? Global servitude is the dream of the new reality brokers. The ruling class believes in their own fantasies (courtesy, it seems, of science fiction movies) but they are determined to control our dreams and aspirations. And unless one starts to examine all of this in terms of class, there is little hope to stop this dream of global hegemony. The mantra must be, *question everything*.

Living Among Others

A few days ago Vanity Fair,  the same outlet that once attempted to block the exposé of monster pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, published an article by Venessa Grigoriadis that provides some details of  Epstein’s friend and alleged ‘co-conspirator’ Ghislaine Maxwell.

Multiple victims claim that Maxwell often brought girls to Epstein and that she was an active sexual participant as well. According to Vanity Fair, “a source close to Maxwell says she spoke glibly and confidently about getting girls to sexually service Epstein, saying this was simply what he wanted, and describing the way she’d drive around to spas and trailer parks in Florida to recruit them. She would claim she had a phone job for them, ‘and you’ll make lots of money, meet everyone, and I’ll change your life….’”  Vanity Fair’s source added: “When I asked what she thought of the underage girls, she looked at me and said, ‘they’re nothing, these girls. They are trash.’”

This is gossipy information, but it seems consistent with what we have learned about Epstein and his ring. Those familiar with Maxwell family history won’t be shocked that Maxwell is quoted calling the girls “trash.” Daddy Maxwell plundered the lifetime pensions of his workers for his own use. He was alleged to be a Mossad agent.  Not many know that Daddy Maxwell was also under police investigation for war crimes just before he drowned. Metropolitan Detectives were preparing to interview Maxwell, once a decorated captain in the British army, about an allegation that he murdered the unarmed mayor of a German City back in 1945.

One may say ‘like father like daughter’. But the total dismissal of otherness and human life is not limited to the Maxwells. Those of us who follow the unfolding Palestinian tragedy are pretty familiar with the institutional disregard to human life that is symptomatic of Israeli policy and is supported by its forceful lobby around the world. The saga of disgraceful conduct on the part of Epstein and others in his orbit suggests that the dismissal of otherness is characteristic of a wide circuit of those affiliated ideologically, politically and spiritually with Zion.

During an interview with Miami news station WPLG, Alan Dershowitz not only bashed one of his accusers, calling her an “admitted prostitute and a serial liar” but claimed that the then-teen was not victimized and in fact “made her own decisions in life.” I am not in a position to determine whether Dershowitz is guilty of sex crimes (which he denies) but this kind of language is the last thing you would expect from a retired Ivy League law professor. One wouldn’t imagine that a law ‘scholar’ would refer to an alleged victim of sex trafficking as ‘an admitted prostitute.’ Nor would one expect a veteran ‘law scholar’ to suggest that the child victim of sexual abuse by a registered sex offender was actually ‘making her own decisions in life.’ But this is exactly what we hear from Alan Dershowitz. No doubt one of the most vocal Zionist advocates around.

Watch the entire interview:

The disregard of others and the dismissal of human life, symptomatic of the Epstein Orbit, extends beyond ethnicity, religious barriers and class. Indeed, we read in various outlets that Leslie Wexner, long standing patron of Epstein, is accused by some of having some connection to the murder of  Arthur Shapiro — a Jewish lawyer who was killed in a 1985 ‘mob-style murder’. Shapiro’s doomed soul was resurrected when the Columbus, Ohio Police released the controversial—and once believed destroyed—document investigating his death.  Presumably Shapiro knew too much.  And author Daniel Halper claims that Israel and its operators within American politics have not refrained from blackmailing even an American president.

According to Halper, Israel attempted to use tapes of former US president Bill Clinton’s steamy sex chats with intern Monica Lewinsky to leverage the release of Jonathan Pollard. Halper claims that during the Wye Plantation talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, held in Maryland in 1998, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled Bill Clinton aside to press for Pollard’s release.  “The Israelis present at Wye River had a new tactic for their negotiations–they’d overheard Clinton and Monica and had it on tape. Not wanting to directly threaten the powerful American president, a crucial Israeli ally, Clinton was told that the Israeli government had thrown the tapes away. But the very mention of them was enough to constitute a form of blackmail,” Halper wrote,  “according to information provided by a CIA source, a stricken Clinton appeared to buckle.”

This horrific narrative of how Israel allegedly blackmailed an American president initially surfaced in 1999.  In his book  Gideon’s Spies, author Gordon Thomas claimed that the Mossad had collected some 30 hours’ worth of phone sex conversations between Lewinsky and Clinton and was using them to blackmail the US or to protect a deeply-embedded mole in the White House.

The Clintons have often been referred to in relation to the Epstein affair.  It is likely, that as with the young women Epstein abused, the Clintons and other prominent Americans were also ‘victims’ so to say.

I now believe that Epstein was just a player in a huge crime syndicate that often seems to operate in large parts of American life, its politics, culture, academia and, of course, finance. In such a vile apparatus Epstein ran an amusement park.  He was never ‘a financier.’ He specialized in accumulating filth that could be used to extract dollars or other favours. In America in 2019 just about every politician at any level except probably Ilhan Omar and Rashida Talib has been reduced into a Zionist puppet. Every prominent American is subject to direct or indirect Zionist pressure of one kind or another.

Igor Ogorodnev wrote yesterday on Russia Today that, “the media has wilfully misinterpreted Donald Trump’s words to portray the most pro-Israel US president in history as an anti-Semite. It makes more sense to chide him for sacrificing US interests to please Benjamin Netanyahu.” Here is my practical advice for Americans. Instead of accusing Trump of being an ‘anti-Semite,’ ask instead why your president is more loyal to Israel than most Israelis, let alone Jews.

To follow the path that led to Jeffrey Epstein’s plea deal listen to this spectacular Jake Morphonios’s podcast:

Dr. Chris Wright: “Critical and Informed Thinking Is Dangerous to the Powerful”

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: You wrote Worker Cooperatives and Revolution where you talk about workers’ cooperatives. In this fascinating book, we note your optimism about the coming of a new era where the human is at the center. You give the example of the cooperative New Era Windows, in Chicago. In your opinion, are we in a new era where the union of workers in the form of a cooperative will shape the future of the world?

Dr. Chris Wright: I think I may have been a little too optimistic in that book about the potential of worker cooperatives. On the one hand, Marx was right that cooperatives “represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new.” They’re microcosmic socialism, since socialism is just workers’ democratic control of economic activity, which is essentially what cooperatives are. Even in the large Mondragon firms that have seen some conflicts between workers and the elected management, there is still vastly more democracy (and more equal pay) than in a typical large capitalist enterprise.

Moreover, there’s an expanding movement in the U.S and elsewhere to seed new cooperatives and promote the transformation of existing capitalist firms into co-ops (which, incidentally, are often more productive, profitable, and longer-lasting than conventional businesses). Countless activists are working to spread a cooperative ethos and build a wide range of democratic, anti-capitalist institutions, from businesses to housing to political forms like participatory budgeting. (Websites like Shareable.net and Community-Wealth.org provide information on this movement.) This whole emerging “solidarity economy” is really what interested me when I was writing the book, though I focused on worker co-ops. I was struck that the very idea of a socialist society is just the solidarity economy writ large, in that all or the majority of institutions according to both visions are supposed to be communal, cooperative, democratic, and non-exploitative.

It’s true, though, that a new society can’t emerge from grassroots initiative alone. Large-scale political action is necessary, since national governments have such immense power. Unless you can transform state policy so as to facilitate economic democratization, you’re not going to get very far. Cooperatives alone can’t get the job done. You need radical political parties, mass confrontations with capitalist authorities, every variety of disruptive “direct action,” and it will all take a very, very long time. Social revolutions on the global scale we’re talking about take generations, even centuries. It probably won’t take as long as the European transition from feudalism to capitalism, but none of us will see “socialism” in our lifetime.

Marxists like to criticize cooperatives and the solidarity economy for being only interstitial, somewhat apolitical, and not sufficiently confrontational with capitalism, but, as I argue in the book, this criticism is misguided. A socialist transformation of the country and the world will take place on many levels, from the grassroots to the most ambitiously statist. And all the levels will reinforce and supplement each other. As the cooperative sector grows, more resources will be available for “statist” political action; and as national politics becomes more left-wing, state policy will promote worker takeovers of businesses. There’s a role for every type of leftist activism.

MA: Do you not think that the weakening of the trade union movement in the USA and elsewhere in the world further encourages the voracity of the capitalist oligarchy that dominates the world? Does not the working class throughout the world have a vital need for a great trade union movement?

CW: The working class desperately needs reinvigorated unions. Without strong unions, you get the most rapacious and misanthropic form of capitalism imaginable, as we’ve seen in the last forty years. Unions, which can be the basis for political parties, have always been workers’ most effective means of defense and even offense. In the U.S., it was only after the Congress of Industrial Organizations had been founded in the late 1930s that a mass middle class, supported by industrial unions with millions of members, could emerge in the postwar era. Unions were important funders and organizers of the American Civil Rights Movement, and they successfully pushed for expansion of the welfare state and workplace safety regulations. They can serve as powerful allies of environmentalists. It’s hard to imagine a livable future if organized labor isn’t resurrected and empowered.

But I don’t think there can be a return of the great postwar paradigm of industry-wide collective bargaining and nationwide social democracy. Capital has become too mobile and globalized; durable class compromises like that aren’t possible anymore. In the coming decades, the most far-reaching role of unions will be more revolutionary: to facilitate worker takeovers of businesses, the formation of left-wing political parties, popular control of industry, mass resistance to the global privatization and austerity agenda, expansion of the public sphere, construction of international workers’ alliances, etc.

Actually, I think that, contrary to old Marxist expectations, it’s only in the 21st century that humanity is finally entering the age of the great apocalyptic battles between labor and capital. Marx didn’t foresee the welfare state and the Keynesian compromise of the postwar period. Now that those social forms are deteriorating, organized labor can finally take up its revolutionary calling. If it and its allies fail, there’s only barbarism ahead.

MA: Your book Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis asks a fundamental question, namely, do we live in a real democracy?

CW: We certainly don’t. None of us do. The U.S. has democratic forms, but substantively it’s very undemocratic. Even mainstream political science recognizes this: studies have shown that the large majority of the population has essentially zero impact on policy, because they don’t have enough money to influence politicians or hire lobbyists. Practically the only way for them to get their voices heard is to disrupt the smooth functioning of institutions, such as through strikes or civil disobedience. We’ve seen this with the gilets jaunes protests in France, and we saw it when air traffic controllers refused to work and thus ended Donald Trump’s government shutdown in January 2019. We live in an oligarchy, a global oligarchy, which isn’t constrained much by the normal “democratic” process of voting.

But voting can be an important tool of resistance, especially if there are genuine oppositional candidates (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example). In that case, society can start to become a little more democratic. So it remains essential for the left to organize electorally, even if it will take a while for there to be a big policy payoff.

MA: Do you not think a new crisis of capitalism is in progress? Does not the capitalist system generate crises?

CW: I’m not an economist, but anyone can see that capitalism has a deep-rooted tendency to generate crises. There’s a long tradition of Marxist scholarship explaining why crises of overproduction and underconsumption (among other causes) repeatedly savage capitalist economies; David Harvey, Robert Brenner, and John Bellamy Foster are some recent scholars who have done good work on the subject. A lot of it comes down to the fact that “excessive capitalist empowerment,” to quote Harvey, leads to “wage repression” that limits aggregate demand, which constrains growth. For a while the problem doesn’t really appear because people can borrow, and are forced to borrow more and more. But accumulation of debt can’t go on forever if there’s no growth of underlying income. Huge credit bubbles appear as borrowing gets out of control and capitalists invest their colossal wealth in financial speculation, and the bubbles inevitably collapse. Then things like the Great Depression and the Great Recession happen.

As horrible as economic crises are, leftists should recognize, as Marx did, that at least they present major opportunities for organizing. It’s only in the context of long-term crisis and a decline of the middle class that there can be a transition to a new society, because crisis forces people to come together and press for radical solutions. It also destroys huge amounts of wealth, which can thin the ranks of the hyper-elite. And the enormous social discontent that results from crisis can weaken reactionary resistance to reform, as during the 1930s in the U.S. (On the other hand, fascism can also take power in such moments, unless leftists seize the initiative.)

There is no hope without crisis. That’s the paradoxical, “dialectical” lesson of Marxism.

MA: You wrote an article about Obama’s mediocrity. Don’t you think that the current US President Donald Trump is competing with Obama in mediocrity?

CW: In the competition over who’s most mediocre, few people hold a candle to Trump. He’s just a pathetic non-entity, an almost impossibly stupid, ignorant, narcissistic, self-pitying, cruel, vulgar little embodiment of all that’s wrong with the world. He’s so far beneath contempt that even to talk about him is already to lower oneself. So in that sense, I suppose he’s a suitable ‘leader’ of global capitalism. Obama at least is a good family man, and he’s intelligent. But he’s almost as lacking in moral principles as Trump, and he has no moral courage at all. I don’t know what to say about someone who announced in 2014, as Israel was slaughtering hundreds of children in Gaza, that Israel has a right to defend itself, and went on to approve the shipment of arms to that criminal nation right in the midst of its Gaza massacre. He’s a self-infatuated megalomaniac without morality.

MA: You wrote in one of your articles that the US government considers its citizens as enemies by using generalized surveillance. Does not the real danger come from this system which spies on everyone?

CW: I think Glenn Greenwald is right that few things are more pernicious than an expansive “national security” state. Surveillance is a key part of it, facilitating the persecution of protesters, dissenters, immigrants, and Muslims. The so-called “law and order” state is a lawless state of extreme disorder, in which power can operate with impunity. It begins to approach fascism.

One danger of the surveillance state is that it might operate like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon: because people don’t know when they’re being watched or targeted, they monitor and regulate themselves all the time. They avoid stepping out of line, being obedient drudges and consumers. Any misstep might sweep them up in the black hole of the police state’s bureaucracy. So they internalize subservience. Of course, in our society there are many other ways of making people internalize subservience. Surveillance is only one, though a particularly vicious and dangerous one.

Another reason to be concerned is that internet companies’ ability to “spy” on users allows them to censor content, whether on their own initiative or from political pressure. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other such companies are constantly censoring leftists (and some on the right) and deleting their accounts. Critics of Israeli crimes are especially vulnerable, but they’re hardly alone. The only real way to solve this problem would be to make internet companies publicly owned, because private entities can do virtually whatever they want with their own property. It’s absurd that leftists can connect and coordinate and build movements only subject to the approval of Mark Zuckerberg and other corporate fascists. It’s also terrifying that a surveillance alliance can develop between corporate behemoths and governments. That’s another feature of fascism.

MA: How do you see the inhuman treatment of Julian Assange and the persecution of him by the British and American administrations?

CW: As left-wing commentators have said, the persecution of Assange is an assault on journalism itself, and on the very idea of challenging the powerful or holding them to account. In that sense, it’s an assault on democracy. But that’s pretty much always what power-structures are doing, trying to undermine democracy and expand their own power, so the vicious treatment of Assange is hardly a surprise. But I doubt that the U.S. and Britain will be able to win their war on journalism in the long run. There are just too many good journalists out there, too many activists, too many people of conscience.

MA: This capitalist society is based on consumption but boasts of concepts such as “freedom of expression”, “human rights”, “democracy”, etc. Don’t we live rather in a fascist system?

CW: I wouldn’t say the West’s political economy is truly fascist. It has fascist tendencies, and it certainly cares nothing for freedom of expression, human rights, or democracy. But civil society is too vibrant and gives too many opportunities for left-wing political organizing to say that we live under fascism. The classical fascism of Italy and Germany was far more extreme than anything we’re experiencing now, especially in the U.S. or Western Europe. We don’t have brownshirts marching in the streets, concentration camps for radicals, assassinations of political and union leaders, or total annihilation of organized labor. There’s still freedom to publish dissenting views.

But major power-structures in the U.S. would love to see fascism of some sort and are working hard to get there. And they have armies of useful idiots to do their bidding. American “libertarians,” for example, of whom there are untold millions, are essentially fascist without knowing it: they want to eliminate the welfare state and regulations of business activity so as to unfetter entrepreneurial genius and maximize “liberty.” They somehow don’t see that in this scenario, corporations, being opposed by no countervailing forces, would completely take over the state and inaugurate the most barbarous and global tyranny in history. The natural environment would be utterly destroyed and most life on Earth would end.

In one sense of fascism, Marxists from the 1920s and 1930s would, as you suggest, say we do live in a rather fascist system. For them, the term denoted the age of big business, or, more precisely, the near-fusion of business with the state. Insofar as society approached a capitalist dictatorship, it was approaching fascism. We don’t literally live under that kind of dictatorship, but without determined resistance it could well be our future.

MA: Isn’t there a need to reread Karl Marx? How do you explain the disappearance of critical thinking in Western society?

CW: I actually think there’s a lot of critical thinking in Western society. The rise of “democratic socialism” in the U.S. is evidence of this, as is the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. The left is growing internationally — although the right is too. But insofar as society suffers from a dearth of critical thinking, the reasons aren’t very obscure. Critical and informed thinking is dangerous to the powerful, so they do all they can to discourage it. Lots of studies have probed the methods of corporate and state indoctrination of the public, and the enormous scale of it. Noam Chomsky is famous for his many investigations of how the powerful “manufacture consent”; one of the lessons of his work is that the primary function of the mass media is to keep people ignorant and distracted. If important information about state crimes is suppressed, as it constantly is, and instead the powerful are continually glorified, well then people will tend to be uninformed and perhaps too supportive of the elite. It’s more fun, anyway, to play with phones and apps and video games and watch TV shows.

The mechanisms by which the business class promotes “stupidity” and ignorance are pretty transparent. Just look at any television commercial, or watch CNN or Fox News. It’s pure propaganda and infantilization.

As for Karl Marx: there’s always a need to read Marx, and to reread him. He and Chomsky are probably the two most incisive political analysts in history. But Marx was such an incredible writer too that he’s a sheer joy to read, and endlessly stimulating and inspiring. He rejuvenates you. (His political pamphlets on France, for instance, are stylistic and analytic masterpieces.) Besides, you simply can’t understand capitalism or history itself except through the lens of historical materialism, as I’ve argued elsewhere.

Of course, Marx wasn’t right about everything. In particular, his conception and timeline of socialist revolution were wrong. The “revolution,” if it happens, will, as I said earlier, be very protracted, since the worldwide replacing of one dominant mode of production by another doesn’t happen in a couple of decades. Even just on a national scale, the fact that modern nations exist in an international economy means socialism can’t evolve in one country without evolving in many others at the same time.

I can’t go into detail on how Marx got revolution wrong (as in his vague but overly statist notion of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”), but in Worker Cooperatives and Revolution I devote a couple of chapters to it. It’s unfortunate that most contemporary Marxists are so doctrinaire they consider it sacrilege if you try to update or rethink an aspect of historical materialism to make it more appropriate to conditions in the 21st century, which Marx could hardly have foreseen. They’re certainly not honoring the Master by thinking in terms of rigid dogma, whether orthodox Marxist or Leninist or Trotskyist.

MA: You are a humanist and the human condition is central in your work. Are you optimistic about the future of humanity?

CW: Frankly, no, I’m not. The forces of darkness just have too much power. And global warming is too dire a threat, and humanity is doing too little to address it. It’s worth reflecting that at the end of the Permian age, 250 million years ago, global warming killed off almost all life. If we don’t do something about it very soon, by the end of the century there won’t be any organized civilization left to protect.

And then there’s the problem of billions of tons of plastic waste polluting the world, and of the extinction of insects “threatening the collapse of nature,” and of dangerous imperialistic conflicts between great powers, and so on. I don’t see much reason for optimism.

We know how to address global warming, for example. But the fossil fuel industry and, ironically, environmentalists are acting so as to increase the threat. According to good scientific research, as reported in the new book A Bright Future (among many others), it’s impossible to solve global warming without exponentially expanding the use of nuclear power. (Contrary to popular opinion, nuclear power is generally very safe, reliable, effective, and environmentally friendly.) Renewable energy can’t get the job done. The world has spent over $2 trillion on renewables in the last decade, but carbon emissions are still rising! That level of investment in nuclear energy, which is millions of times more concentrated and powerful than diffuse solar and wind energy, could have put us well on the way to solving global warming. Instead, the crisis is getting much worse. Renewables are so intermittent and insufficient that countries are still massively investing in fossil fuels, which are incomparably more destructive than nuclear.

But the left is adamant against nuclear power, and it’s very hard even to publish an article favorable to it. Only biased and misinformed articles are published, with some exceptions. So the left is working to exacerbate global warming, just as the right is. Why? Ultimately for ideological reasons: most leftists like the idea of decentralization, dispersed power, community control of energy, and anti-capitalism, and these values seem more compatible with solar and wind energy than nuclear. The nuclear power industry isn’t exactly a model of transparency, democracy, or political integrity.

But the Guardian environmental columnist George Monbiot is right: sometimes you have to go with a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater one, in this case the collapse of civilization and probably most life on Earth. Is that a price environmentalists are willing to pay so they can preen themselves on their political virtue? So far, it seems the answer is yes.

We humans have to break free of our tribal ways, our herd-thinking ways. We have to be more willing to think critically, self-critically, and stop being so complacent and conformist. The younger generation, actually, seems to be leading the way, for instance with the Extinction Rebellion and all the exciting forms of activism springing up everywhere. But we still have a terribly long way to go.

I haven’t lost hope, but I’m not sanguine. The next twenty or thirty years will be the most decisive in human history.

Pay for Success Finance Preys Upon the Poor

One of the biggest things we’re up against, and something few people are talking about, is social impact investing and pay for success finance. Within the hollowed out shell of the welfare state, which admittedly was always inadequate and used for purposes of racialized social control, global finance has built a new machine that will use predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and wearable and screen-based technologies to monitor the global poor and profit from their misery.

This effort is being carried out in partnership with the non-profit sector, higher education, think tanks, and global foundations. Many involved identify as liberal, even progressive. Successful resistance will require stopping Trump, the Koch brothers, and ALEC, as well as a corporate, militarized Blue Wave that has every intention of stabilizing late-stage capitalism with technocratic “evidence-based” solutions. Make no mistake; this is a fully bipartisan enterprise.

Outcomes-based contracts are this machine’s operating system. Contracts employ pay-for-performance agreements that reimburse service providers IF they produce specified success metrics. These metrics are narrowly defined and chosen for their ability to be gamed. Contrived solutions offer up fake “success” to enrich investors at the expense of vulnerable populations. Think standardized test scores as success metrics for education or fit-bit step counts for preventative health.

This machine requires a steady supply of people labeled deficient by those in power. Like batteries in the Matrix, the poor are meant to be the fuel. The machine does not care for their actual wellbeing; its sole purpose is to maximize profit. In that it is similar to the capitalist Western medical model where Big Pharma opts for chronic disease management over research leading to cures. Pay for success will not empower the poor, but instead manage them and harvest their data, indefinitely.

The infrastructure for this system was put in place in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008.  After toxic mortgages imploded, financiers needed another way to keep global capital circulating. It had to be even bigger than real estate debt, since global wealth continues to become more and more concentrated. The next BIG target would be financialized public benefit systems. Through financialization, resources are siphoned from the real economy into the financial sector where demands for short-term profit lead to instability, overwhelming debt, income inequality, and wage stagnation.

To justify this shift, proponents of pay for success insist governments will never have sufficient resources to care for their people. Services MUST be outsourced. This in turn opens up vast global markets for speculative investment in human capital. The big money isn’t to be had running human services, which are admittedly hard to turn a profit on, but rather in the trade of debt associated with providing those services. Such a development isn’t surprising, given the power finance and technology interests like Alphabet and Goldman Sachs, hold over elected officials. Governments have been captured, and as hostages of transnational capital, they’re compelled to go along with this brutal scheme.

After its fin-tech makeover, the new welfare state will essentially function as a maze into which poor people are forced by social work navigators. Technologies will track, predict, and influence behavior. The digital dust the poor generate as they attempt to negotiate punitive bureaucracies will flow to social sector dashboards, informing hedge fund bets in real time. With their varied portfolios of trauma, vulnerable populations will replace real estate in the lead up to the next Big Short.

Investors don’t put money in markets they expect to dry up. Thus logic dictates turning poverty into a global investment market will only increase poverty. Social impact markets require an ever-expanding supply of people deemed cheaply fixable according to the terms investors set. The fixes offered aren’t meant to materially improve lives long term. That would require redistribution of resources, something unthinkable for the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg. While poverty may be reduced somewhat, it is an essential feature of the design. For pay for success to thrive, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, hunger, violence, unemployment, broken families, and uncertainty must remain the norm. Hedge funds hate stability, and they’re the ones driving social impact investing. If everyone had enough to live a stable life, the gambling would have to come to an end.

Vulture philanthropies seeded this market. After many grant cycles the non-profit sector has been conditioned to impose toxic solutions without question, collecting the data needed to justify venture capital’s profit taking. Having been integrated into the machine, these partners in crime are tasked with managing populations that black box algorithms have identified as “at risk.” These artificial labels will, of course, be disproportionately applied to Black and Brown communities. The system demands broken people. Broken people are the raw material. As a result, the system is incentivized to manufacture data and create as many broken people as hedge funds require to keep global capital in optimal circulation.

Social sector workers are also part of the human capital pipeline, caught in this web along with the poor. The system intends to extract as much data and impose as much surveillance as it possibly can, which is why those administering harmful solutions must get creative in identifying others with whom they can organize. This shift will be catastrophic for educators, healthcare providers, therapists, and social workers across the globe. Effective resistance will need to unite people across diverse workplaces.

The United Way is a partner in these efforts as is Strive Together out of Ohio. They’ve identified a permanent underclass for “collective impact” processing called ALICE: Assets Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These are the households of the working poor: children with unstable housing, indebted college graduates, workers living paycheck to paycheck, patients with chronic illness, disabled veterans, the elderly. Pay for success “solutions” will process them as commodities via ed-tech, tele-health, tele-therapy, and “smart” housing.

Soon large segments of the population will find their life choices subject to digital engineering, forced onto prescriptive pathways, jumping through hoops into which structural racism has been embedded in computer code. Smart phones will play a major role as benefits are moved to online platforms and linked to digital identity. It is the phones with their biometric capacity that facilitate transfers of value and data and enable tracking and analysis of impact. Phones will be the minders of the poor. Those with phones can have no expectation of privacy.

Such systems are being piloted on unhoused people in Austin now with backing from Bloomberg Philanthropies, a major impact investor. The state of Illinois also has a working group setting up Blockchain birth certificates and is looking to digitize SNAP benefits so coded nudges can be used to push “good” food choices. As the poor have their welfare inputs evaluated against their economic and behavioral outputs, the rich will sit on the sidelines placing bets. Either way the rich win, because there’s always someone willing to take the short position.

Beyond financialization of human life, these data-driven systems also legitimize increased surveillance of large segments of the population, especially Black and Brown communities already subject to militarized policing. Resisters will be viewed as insurgents and subject to violent counter insurgent interventions as we saw in Ferguson and at Standing Rock. Wearable and screen based technologies and interoperable data systems, like Project Unicorn headquartered a few blocks from here, will feed a vast network of signals intelligence to monitor the behavior of the poor, predicting the likelihood of push back. The Minerva Research Initiative was set up by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for exactly this purpose. It’s not hard to imagine the impact such intelligence will have on resistance movements.

So, what does social impact digital surveillance look like?

It looks like behavior tracking apps for low-income mothers.
It looks like play tables that video record toddlers and score their social behaviors.
It looks like online preschool.
It looks like brain wave monitoring headbands and executive function enhancing video games for students.
It looks like wearable tech that tracks vital signs for substance users.
It looks like online cognitive behavioral therapy for prisoners.
It looks like fit bits and Internet of Things pill caps for Medicaid patients.
It looks like “smart” supportive housing with integrated IoT monitoring.
It looks like tablet-based overseas monitoring of seniors.
It looks like virtual reality death simulation training for hospice workers.

Once you peek under the hood, you realize what a grotesque business social impact investing actually is. These tools are built on 400 years of racial capitalism. It is the Doctrine of Discovery with Blockchain replacing double-entry bookkeeping and smart phones and digital identity systems replacing shackles. It is a system that arose in tandem with cloud-based computing, broadband, 5G and the Internet of Things. These advancements are inextricably inked to the interests of the US military and intelligence community, which is why we must recognize that as much as we have come to rely on our devices, true liberation will never come through digital channels. It can’t; our opponents run the cloud.

We’re living through a period of orchestrated mass confusion and distraction. Some are sitting like frogs in simmering pots, distracted on their phones as the steam billows around them. Others are forced to play real-life games of Frogger, heads down, crossing dangerous highways, dodging crises right and left with little opportunity to see, let along plan for, what is coming.

South Africa and Australia have piloted public benefits on Blockchain linked to digital identity. The state of Illinois is looking into it as well. We need to stop them politically and we must develop alternative networks of support outside existing government and non-profit structures. We need to get out of our simmering pots and look up to the horizon. We need to do it soon.

Warring Against Sources: The Australian National Security State, Journalism and the Public Interest

What’s gone on this morning sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia.  This will chill public interest reporting.

— News Corp Australia spokesperson, The West Australian, June 4, 2019

These are dark times for journalists and publishers.  It did not seem coincidental that Annika Smethurst, a News Corp journalist and political affairs editor, would be a target of an Australian Federal Police warrant.  Chelsea Manning, courtesy of a ruling by Judge Anthony Trenga, remains in federal custody in the United States.  Julian Assange is facing decline in the maximum security abode that is Belmarsh prison in the United Kingdom.

The story supposedly linked to the AFP warrant had been published by Smethurst on April 29, 2018. More than a year had elapsed, with little in the way of public murmurings.  Australians have, for the most part, fallen under the anaesthetist’s spell regarding intrusive, unnecessary and dangerous national security laws.  Another set of them would hardly matter.

But since the story, titled “Let Us Spy on Aussies” broke last year, the security wallahs have been attempting to root out the source, mobilising the AFP in the process.  The account detailed information on discussions between the Home Affairs and Defence departments on the possibility of granting the Australian Signals Directorate powers to monitor the emails, bank records and text messages of Australian citizens.  Letters between Secretary of Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo and Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty featured.

When the archaic official secrets provisions of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) were repealed in June 29 2018, leaving way for new regulations dealing with national security information, those dealing with publishing such material felt slight relief.  A public interest defence, lodged in the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign) Interference Act 2018, had been introduced, protecting those “engaged in the business of reporting news, presenting current affairs or expressing editorial or other content in news media”.

The content in question might cover what the Act designates to be “inherently harmful information”: security classified information; information obtained by, or made by or on behalf of, a domestic intelligence agency or a foreign intelligence agency in connection with the agency’s functions; or information on “the operations, capabilities or technologies of, or methods or sources used by, a domestic or foreign law enforcement agency.”

It always pays, when reading such sections, to consider the exceptions.  Conduct deemed a contravention of provisions regarding intelligence sources (the publication of names or identity of staff, for instance), does not satisfy the test, nor conduct deemed to assist, directly or indirectly, “a foreign intelligence agency or a foreign military organisation.”  Logical, you might say.

The ineffectual nature of those provisions is borne out by how narrow the protection is. The Law Council’s efforts to convince the federal government to extend the public interest defence to suppliers of the information was rejected, leaving the way open for such cases as Smethurst’s: spare the journalist but attack the source.  According to Law Council president Arthur Moses, the protection is shabby, a mere “mirage because it does not cover a journalist’s source.”

The other unspoken and unscripted assumption is how anaemic public interest defences work in Australian law.  Its operation starts from a reverse premise from US analogues, privileging the necessity of ignorance against the dangers of revelation.  The government keeps you ignorant for your own good; material published might be inimical to the public interest, but that “interest” is always that of the state, not the general citizenry.

So we come to the morning of June 4, with Smethurst readying to leave for work, only to witness Australian Federal Police bearing down heavily with a warrant.  A statement from the AFP subsequently confirmed that it had “executed a search warrant at a residence in the ACT suburb of Kingston today (4 June 2019)” on a matter relating “to an investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information that was referred to the AFP.”  The AFP “will allege the unauthorised disclosure of these specific documents undermines Australia’s security.”

The gravity of the allegations was affirmed in an update: “This warrant relates to the alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret, which is an extremely serious matter with the potential to undermine Australia’s national security.”

The incident in Canberra proved catching.  Hours after the AFP’s move on Smethurst, radio 2GB Drive presenter and Sky News contributor Ben Fordham revealed that he had also been the subject of an investigation after discussing the attempt of six asylum seeker boats to reach Australia.  The story piqued the interest of a Department of Home Affairs official, who proceeded to scold Fordham’s producer for discussing “highly confidential” material.  “In other words,” explained the broadcaster bluntly, “we weren’t supposed to know about it.”

In the course of Wednesday morning, with no settling of dust in order, a second raid by the AFP was executed against the Sydney offices of the national broadcaster, the ABC. Those named in the warrant – investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, along with ABC director of news Gaven Morris – were linked to The Afghan Files, a set of ghoulish stories in 2017 revealing allegations of unlawful killings by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.  Australia’s national security state has gotten very busy indeed.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, when pressed about Smethurst’s case, was untroubled.  Having played the role of fatherly minder of the Australian nation, he was not going to let any alleged breach of security go by.  Currently on a visit to the United Kingdom, he expressed little concern about the morning raid on a journalist’s home: “it never troubles me that our laws are being upheld.”

While News Corp has its demonic familiars (Rupert Murdoch’s influence hangs heavily), it was hard to disagree with the premise advanced by a spokesperson.  “This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths.  The raid was outrageous and heavy handed.”

The Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, voicing agreement, considered the police raid “an outrageous move that should concern all Australians who value their freedom in an open society.”  With confidence, the statement asserted that it was “in the public interest for us to know of any plan for greater powers to monitor our messages.”

Chris Merritt, legal affairs editor of The Australian, saw the raid as an ominous signal to all investigative scribblers.  “Welcome to modern Australia – a nation where police raid journalists in order to track down and punish the exposure of leaks inside the federal government”.  But such an Australia was also chugging along merrily before the raid on Smethurst’s home.  (Like the unsuspecting priest living in a dystopian surveillance state, the police finally came for them.)

Should Assange ever make a return to the country of his birth, he is unlikely to find peace in this US satellite state, with its flimsy public disclosure and whistleblowing laws, its mirage-like protections.  Hunting publishers, journalists and their sources is de rigueur down under.