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Issue #1747      September 7, 2016

Taking Issue: Rob Gowland – Part 1

The capitalist establishment – not quite a monolith

We tend to think of the capitalist elite, the notorious “one percent”, as monolithic, a homogeneous whole, the “ruling class”, but while they share a common class interest, they are divided on precisely how that class interest is to be interpreted and applied. It has ever been thus. Just look at the differences within the ruling class of France and Britain in the 1930s over how to deal with the threat of Nazi aggression: appeasement, defence pacts, collaboration and self-interested variations all had their exponents.

US columnist and author Dr Paul Craig Roberts has written an interesting if somewhat confused (and sometimes inaccurate) article that reflects these contradictions as they impact the world today. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy in one US administration, an associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for Business Week so his ruling class credentials are impeccable.

And yet he can make a statement like this: “The left [he is referring to the left in the USA] suffered a tremendous blow when the Soviet Union collapsed. The Soviet collapse deprived the left of its belief that there was an alternative to American ‘democratic capitalism’.” [Actually, as we know, capitalism is anything but democratic, in the USA as anywhere else.] “The Soviet collapse also disheartened the left because the collapse removed any constraint on Washington’s unilateralism. With China shaking off Mao and moving into the capitalist camp [the Chinese Party would dispute that], there was no one to pick up the torch ...

“The West needs a strong left-wing movement with the strength to challenge the lies that are leading the world to a war of extinction of life. I would prefer a reformist left to a revolutionary one [a very revealing statement], but this is not to say that a revolutionary left is not preferable to what exists today, which is revolutionary neo-conservatism without opposition from a countervailing force.”

What the devil is “revolutionary neo-conservatism” I wonder? It sounds like a contradiction in terms and to my mind reflects Roberts’ own ideological confusion.

Nevertheless, his article, distributed by Information Clearing House, and called “Rethinking the Cold War – and the new one”, is very interesting for the glimpse it gives us of the divisions within the capitalist ruling class, and the possibilities for united action with at least some of the establishment against the war-mongering ultra-reactionaries.

In his article, Roberts says that “the Cold War began during the Truman administration and ... was ended in Reagan’s second term when Reagan and Gorbachev came to an agreement that the conflict was dangerous, expensive, and pointless,” a curiously naive assessment that ignores the triumphalism displayed by US leaders and the determined anti-Sovietism of Gorbachev. Gorbachev might in fact have thought the Cold War was pointless, Reagan (or his advisers) I am sure had no such illusions.

We know that in fact the Cold War did not end. Its form and propaganda changed to take advantage of the changed circumstances; that was all. Even Roberts acknowledges that the lull did not last long. “In the 1990s President Clinton restarted the Cold War by breaking America’s promise not to expand NATO into Eastern Europe. George W Bush heated up the renewed Cold War by pulling the US out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and Obama has made the war hotter with irresponsible rhetoric and by placing US missiles on Russia’s border and overthrowing the Ukrainian government.”

The Cold War was a strategic expression of the class war, as the most highly developed capitalist powers sought to create tactical advantages for themselves over their Socialist rival. Roberts, however, sees it differently: for him the Cold War was “the work of the Dulles brothers. Allen was the head of the CIA, and John Foster was the Secretary of State, positions that they held for a long time. The brothers had a vested interest in the Cold War ...

“Whenever a reformist democratic government appeared in Latin America the Dulles brothers saw it as a threat to the holdings that their law firm’s clients had in that country. These holdings, sometimes acquired with bribes to non-democratic governments, diverted the country’s resources and wealth into American hands and that is the way the Dulles brothers intended to keep it. The reformist government would be declared Marxist or Communist, and the CIA and State Department would work together to overthrow it and place back in power a dictator in bed with Washington.”

Well that’s certainly what they would do, but surely they would do that with or without the Dulles brothers? It was in their class interest to do it. And they did it wherever progressive governments appeared or tried to operate, not just where the Dulles brothers’ clients did business.

Roberts, however, has a theory, a theory that flirts with the truth while failing to fully comprehend it. “The Soviet government, unlike the US government today, had no world hegemonic aspirations. Stalin had declared ‘Socialism in one country’ and purged the Trotskyists, the advocates of world revolution. Communism in China and Eastern Europe were not products of Soviet international communism. Mao was his own man, and the Soviet Union kept Eastern Europe from which the Red Army drove out the Nazis as a buffer against a hostile West.”

He does the same with the Vietnam war. “Ho Chi Minh was an anti-colonialist leading a nationalist movement. He was not an agent of international Communism, but John Foster Dulles made him one and said that Ho must be stopped or the ‘domino theory’ would result in the fall of all of Southeast Asia to Communism. Vietnam won the war and did not launch the aggression that Dulles predicted against Southeast Asia.”

Dulles, however, did not invent the mythical threat of Red aggression, anymore than he invented anti-Communism. They are the inevitable by-products of capitalism itself. The leaders of capitalism at the imperialist stage of its development interpret the actions of other governments in terms of what they themselves would do. In the case of US imperialism, that means in terms of aggression.

Roberts does, however, correctly identify one of the uses of anti-Communism. “In those days the ‘Red scare’ was used like the ‘Muslim terrorist scare’ today – to force the public to go along with an agenda without debate or understanding.”

Colonialism’s end

On the other hand, he has some decidedly weird ideas about the way international affairs actually operate. “If Washington had simply told the French government that the colonialist era was over and that France needed to vacate Indo-China, the disaster of the Vietnam war would have been avoided.” French capitalism would simply have given up any ambitions it might have had to become rich (or richer) by retaining control of its colonies in Asia which supplied raw materials for its manufacturing and markets for its produce. Sure it would have.

He actually accepts the Cold War propaganda that NATO was a defensive alliance. “NATO was unnecessary as there was no danger of the Red Army sweeping into Western Europe.” Can anyone who takes an interest in international affairs seriously doubt that NATO is an aggressive pact?

Next week: Nuclear “new war doctrine”

Next article – Mexico – Blood on the textbooks

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