I began this discussion of the roadblocks which prevent human advance to higher levels of social awareness and well-being by listing ignorance, greed and a number of corrosive and devitalizing forces and practices which blunt the cutting edge of the crusade to end social backwardness and promote the full use of nature, of human genius, of science, technology, and the social apparatus as means for opening wide the doors of opportunity for the entire human race. Ignorance, poverty, unemployment, dissipation, war and other forms of waste are barriers which must be surmounted and liquidated by the concerted demand of humanity as it struggles for enlightenment, and the fuller use of natural resources and technical equipment to enlarge opportunity, increase knowledge and thus broaden and deepen the stream of human culture.
There are other roadblocks which are deliberately built and maintained, to preserve obsolete features of Western civilization, to limit and restrict human advance and to make such minor reforms in the social apparatus as are necessary to blunt the worldwide movement for social betterment, and to preserve the wealth-poverty balance: wealth for the owners and masters; poverty for those who do much of the world’s work. I shall call these planned, tailor-made roadblocks to social advance “the counter-revolution” because they are the answer of property, privilege and the status quo to the planet-wide revolution of the past half century.
There is nothing casual or customary about the counter-revolution. It has been planned, organized, financed, armed and led by the richest and most powerful big businesses and the richest and most powerful governments of the “free world.” For years after 1917 the big business-military oligarchies which were running the Western empires considered the Russian Revolution and the Chinese, Cuban, Philippine, Turkish and other revolutions which clustered around the Russian Revolution as “impermanent rather than permanent.” When at long last they awoke to the fact that revolution at various levels was sweeping over the planet like a prairie fire, they took the matter seriously and began planning and organizing the counter-revolution.
Needless to say, the counter-revolution had as its purpose the preservation and strengthening of the status quo. It was stimulated and activated in all areas where revolution succeeded or threatened to succeed.
Counter-revolution was directed against revolutionary movements and revolutionary governments in Mexico, Russia, Central Europe, the Near and Middle East, South East Asia, Latin America, Africa. It was so successful in the United States that it all but eliminated the Left as an effective political factor.
Behind the counter-revolution were the prestige, wealth and political authority of western civilization. Immediately after the Russian Revolution it took organized form in the drive to overthrow the Bolsheviks and the parallel revolutions in Germany and Central Europe. Then it appeared as Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. Later, as the threat of planet-wide revolution mounted after war’s end in 1945, it became the Cold War, waged by the remnants of the chief 19th century empires against syndicalism, socialism, communism or any other ideology which questioned the theory and practice of private enterprise and empire building as the logical end and aim of human life. Led aggressively by the business-military complex of the United States after 1946, the Cold War took the center of the western stage and has occupied it ever since, fighting the collectivist “enemy” in the Soviet Union, People’s China, Korea, Vietnam, Iran, the Congo, Cuba, Bolivia, Brazil, and wherever private enterprise profiteers were threatened by popular uprisings.
The counter-revolutionary drive has six chief aspects: the circus aspect; the convenience, comfort, conformity aspect; the petty reform aspect; the corruption aspect; the espionage aspect; and the violence and terror aspect.
The circus aspect of counter-revolution is aimed to amuse, entertain and divert attention from some of the chief issues that concern mankind. Mass conditioning is a very old story. It is being repeated in the present-day West with camera, printing press, movies, radio, television and the other means of communication which modern technology has provided so generally and so generously. Thanks to these discoveries and inventions it is possible for those in authority to reach people in their homes, in their work places, in their schools and recreation centers and on the street, twenty-four hours of each day, with blandishments, scandal, horror stories, doctored “news,” admonitions, warning, threats. Since the means of present-day communication in the West are under the control of the same oligarchies that own the economy, operate the political apparatus and administer the social services, the people can be fed half-truths and lies, or, through silence, kept in virtual ignorance of t~le course of events. At the same time they are told, repeatedly, through the same channels that they are the most enlightened public anywhere on earth.
The convenience, comfort, conformity aspect of the counter-revolution was designed to buy off the popular masses by flooding the mass market with a dazzling, bewildering, engrossing supply of goods and services.
Counter-revolutionaries are in control of production apparatus capable of converting natural resources and human energy into a huge volume and an infinite variety of gadgets and appliances in addition to the assembly-line output of food, clothing, shelter and the social services. These goods and services were poured into the mass market and were matched by wage and salary payrolls which enabled their recipients to buy back two-thirds of the national product.
Trusts, cartels and other forms of economic concentration reduced the number of self-employed enterprisers and professionals. At the same time they increased the number of wage earners and salaried employes, so that those who wished to buy in the mass market were increasingly dependent on blue-collar and white-collar jobs. Holding a job owned by somebody else thus became the key to affluence and the economic basis for status, prestige, promotion.
Jobs were owned by the business-military-political oligarchies which controlled every essential aspect of the more highly industrialized communities. The oligarchs held the key to convenience, comfort, status, preferment.
Did job-holders and their families wish to share in the goods and services heaped on mass market shelves? Did they want to revel in processed food, drive their own cars, own their own homes, enjoy status and get promotions? There was one simple, universal credit card that gave the holder a job with its regular pay check admitting to the mass market. Conformity credit cards (jobs) were issued to those who followed the approved way of life. Approval came from the oligarchy. Acceptance was the oath of fealty sworn by the prospective job-holder. Those who differed and opposed were refused jobs and thus reduced to second-class economic status. They were subversive unemployables, screw balls, misfits, troublemakers.
The Way of Life was outlined in school, in church, in the press, over radio and television. The Way of Life became a religious obligation and a patriotic duty. Those who accepted and followed it had all of the rights and privileges provided for first-class citizens and job holders. Non-conformers received second-class treatment.
Petty reforms are part and parcel of the arsenal with which counter-revolution fights its battles. Revolutionary demands go to the roots and are far-reaching, involving changes in property, class relations and the status of those engaged in the revolutionary struggle. Petty reforms are crumbs, thrown to those who demand bread.
Petty reforms satisfy immediate demands, leaving property and class relations as they were before the reforms were offered. They may include limited hours of labor, better working conditions, broadened education, political representation, an extended suffrage, elections within a specified period, extension of civil rights and social services. Reform preserves the essential structure of society so that those presently in power continue to exercise authority.
Promises of petty reforms are the IOU’s with which the counter-revolution seeks to dull the edge of revolutionary demands and decrease revolutionary enthusiasm.
Nevertheless, each reform (conceded however grudgingly by the masters) involves some limitation of arbitrary authority and adds to the rights and privileges which the ruled are able to exercise and enjoy. Experience in Scandinavia and Great Britain is significant in this respect. In these countries manifold reforms have been made over recent years, in the working and living conditions of the populace. Social services have been improved. Housing has been bettered. Unemployment has been reduced. As a result, the revolutionary movements in these countries have been correspondingly weakened.
“Corrupt” means to debase, deprave, worsen. Corruption undermines integrity and purpose, impairs vitality, decreases effectiveness. It is therefore an important instrument of the counter-revolution. Corruption is particularly effective where the counter-revolutionaries own and control an efficient productive apparatus which is able to provide an abundant supply of goods, services, gadgets and (most important, in a society build around a money economy) to provide quantities of money.
The present-day counter-revolution can offer not only immense quantities and varieties of goods and services but, through its elaborate apparatus of credits and securities, can offer permanent parasitism to those who will follow its line and do its bidding.
Supplied with an abundance of goods, services, money, credit and securities, the counter-revolution can satisfy human hungers to the point of satiety, gratifying the appetites of drug addicts and gamblers, providing amusement and diversion on a grandiose scale, and guaranteeing the supply of such desiderata so long as the existing order endures.
Counter-revolutionaries aim their corrupting activities especially at the younger and less experienced leaders of the revolution, offering them secure, well-paid jobs, regular promotions, status and social recognition, and whatever money will buy.
Espionage is an important aspect of counter-revolution. Early in the present century spies and spying were generally regarded with disfavor in the United States. In Europe, with its semi-popular monarchies, its intense national rivalries and its militant revolutionary minorities, espionage was expected and even taken for granted. In a democratic republic it was considered an intruder.
Today, with the spread of revolutionary activities, the extension of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States government as the patron, financier, armorer and organizer of counter-revolution across the planet, spies and spying have become an integral part of the American Way of Life. In continental United States the Federal Bureau of Investigation fills its dossiers on millions of individuals with fact, fiction and gossip. Abroad the Central Intelligence Agency snoops, prys, plots, and organizes counter-revolution.
These two are the chief spy agencies under the immediate direction of the Federal Government. In addition, the diplomatic and consular services are spying agencies. Each of the armed services has its intelligence department. The treasury has its secret service. Both House and Senate have investigative committees patterned on the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Post Office, like the Internal Revenue and the Custom Service, have their under-cover men. The Post Office, Customs and the F.B.I. check printed matter coming into the country and exclude undesirable publications. The Post Office may check the personal mail of non-conformists. Individual states and cities have their spies, legislative committees and police departments.
United States big business is honey-combed with spies. Large corporations have their intelligence services which plant spies and spying apparatus in factory departments, in offices, in toilet and social rooms, in the room of the Board of Directors. For smaller enterprises there are national and international detective agencies which specialize in spying and place spies for business enterprises on the premises of their rivals.* Espionage is justified by the one word: security, but as the spy network proliferates and penetrates every corner of society, privacy disappears and insecurity becomes universal.
[*For details, see Vance Packard’s The Naked Society, N. Y.: David McKay 1964]
Most alarming to radicals, among activities of the counter-revolution, has been its use of violence and terror. During the opening years of the present century two assumptions were widespread among western intellectuals: first, western man was too civilized to permit another general war; second, the West had left behind terror tactics such as physical manhandling and physical torture. Both assumptions were blown to bits in the events that accompanied the wars after 1914.
It is difficult for anyone born since 1914 to realize the totality of the revolution in social techniques which took place during this period. In the Victorian Age, which ended in 1914, British, Germans, Frenchmen, and other peoples in the West took it for granted that mankind had advanced to a level far above that of the Middle Ages, with a consequent humanitarianism, a respect for human dignity and a whole-hearted rejection of practices associated with the words “savagery” and “barbarism.” The word “civilization,” as then used, automatically repudiated such savage and barbaric approaches to life. War, revolution and counter-revolution re-opened the flood gates to violence and terror on a scale far exceeding anything known to have existed among the pre-civilized peoples.
Revolution and counter-revolution in the same political area are, in effect, cold or hot civil war, with relative against relative and neighbor against neighbor. Such struggles are traditionally fierce and bloody. Experience during the present period of social revolution and counter-revolution runs true to civil war form.
Since the closing years of the 19th century there have been five parallel and inter-related movements: (1) the technological revolution; (2) the revolts of suppressed and oppressed peoples demanding self-determination and setting up republics dedicated by their constitutions to representative or democratic governments; (3) advances in military preparations and in the weaponry used in two general wars and scores of civil and local wars: (4) the growth of the economic and political labor movement, reaching its climax in the building of planned, socialist societies; and (5) the general and stubborn refusal of the bourgeois to accept and bow to the verdict of social evolution and history. It is the refusal of the business class, led by that of the U.S.A., which has involved humanity in the cold war with its accompanying violence and terror directed not only against socialism, but against the extension or use of the democratic process.
Violence and terror during the past half-century have included the formal denial of human rights as specified in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. These rights include movement, communication, persuasion, organization and joint acts up to the point of disturbing public order and endangering the continuance of existing governments. By common consent during grave emergencies civil rights are subordinated to the need of defending and promoting the common welfare. However, the denials and violations of human rights, especially among the colonial and other dependent peoples has been and still is a matter of course. These denials extend beyond colonial areas into the homelands of the great empires.
Vigilantism and mob violence are permitted, encouraged and often participated in by the police. Vigilante mobs, with no pretense of authority, violate human rights, destroy the property, maim and often take the lives of opponents and victims.
Political opponents are persecuted and prosecuted. They are arrested and detained for long periods without formal charges and without trial; they are tried in secret with public and press excluded. Long prison sentences are imposed and served, under sub-human conditions. Often political opponents are shot out of hand. Physical and psychological torture designed to force admissions of guilt or information concerning associates of the torture victims are carried out by public authorities.
Assassination by public authorities or by private agencies with the connivance of public authority is utilized as a political instrument.
There are mass killing and maiming by troops and police, firing on demonstrations of unarmed people, including women and children. Petrograd, at the Winter Palace in 1905, the Amritzar massacre in 1916 by the British authorities, and the official beating of unarmed Negroes and whites demonstrating in the Deep South of the United States during 1964-65 are outstanding examples.
Genocide is practiced. Mass extermination of political opponents or racial minorities; undernourishment in concentration camps; gas chambers are employed. These methods reached the highest level of scientific efficiency in Germany under the Nazis, when Jews, Poles, Russians, Yugoslavs and other opponents were destroyed by millions. The victims included men, women and children.
Police and military persecution and suppression of minority political organizations and religious faiths are carried on inside political frontiers. Examples are the anti-socialist drive in Central and East Europe after the Russian Revolution and the Cold War against communism after 1945.
Mob violence and public participation in drives against racial and religious minorities have occurred In South Africa, India, and the United States since the Civil War.
Mass deportations for political reasons have accompanied war and have been carried out for political purposes.
The entire half-century beginning with 1910 has been marred and scarred by unofficial and official violence and terror: by “man’s inhumanity to man.” A radical must describe human conduct during this entire period as disgusting, revolting, appalling, indefensible, degrading and unworthy of reasoning, ethically motivated human beings.*
[*The ghastly array of evidence supporting the charge that during the past half-century humanity had used violence and terror at levels ordinarily associated with one or another form of primitivism must be qualified by reference to another aspect of human behavior during the same period of war and revolution: the movement for non-violent action in opposition to violence.
Within the vast military machines built up by governments to destroy life and property across the frontiers, individual conscientious objectors have taken their stand against war and violence. Some of them were shot out of hand, but the movement of conscientious objection reached minority proportions in the war-ready and warring countries.
There were mass refusals of duty in the face of the enemy. The most massive was the disintegration of the Russian armies before the October Revolution of 1917. Armed men on the front lines during the War of 1914-18, fraternized with their opponents, abandoning discipline and threatening the entire war-waging system. Armed men, waging civil war, turned to agriculture and industry, producing instead of destroying. This was notably true in the People’s Liberation Armies of China. Outstanding examples of non-violent action in the face of overwhelming military power were the campaigns organized by Mohandas Gandhi among Indians in South Africa and later in his native India.
Latest among examples of non-violent action are the campaigns of mass civil disobedience aimed to obstruct the activities of the military. Such demonstrations have been organized in Japan against United States armed forces there; in Britain against the installation of Polaris Missiles; in the United States against biological and chemical warfare. Most notable are the non-violent protests against racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa and in the Deep South of the United States. Mention should be made also of the impressive student demonstrations which frequently have .had profound political effects during the past half century. These have occurred in Japan, South Korea, South Vietnam, Turkey, Egypt, and now are occurring in the Western Hemisphere.]
(from Chapter III, The Conscience of a Radical, Scott Nearing, Harborside, Maine: Social Science Institute, 1965)
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