If you haven’t done so I urge you to read the exchanges in the comments section below my post of three days ago on February 17, Stop the War NOW!
In particular I urge you to read my exchange with a very good friend, Dave Hansell. It’s not often you could slip a cigarette paper between his political takes and mine – and our assessments of why the war is happening are no exception.
Where we differ is on whether to attend the demonstration listed above, organised by a Stop the War Coalition (StW) we both agree is gravely deficient. In reply to Dave’s eloquent case for giving the event a swerve, I had written:
… my attendance will NOT be to endorse StW.
It will be for two reasons:
- To stand with those who, like me, are horrified by what is happening. I say that giving unified voice to our horror, however impotently, matters.
- To engage with all who will listen on why the current war (like all the others: past, present and yet to be) is happening.
The StW Coalition is a popular front. Popular fronts are ‘rainbow alliances’. Of necessity their foundations are shaky. That’s why they always fall at the first hurdle – the problem definition stage. Their fear is of upsetting a castle of cards: a shaky reconciliation of the irreconcilable. Twas ever thus. In its public utterances on all of this century’s imperialist wars, StW has failed that most basic test – what exactly is the problem here? – and for the reasons you imply.
But should those of us with better understandings, of what is happening and why, hold our noses and stay away? I see a great danger of sectarianism. I see a compelling case for getting in there and making our arguments in an arena where there’s a chance of being heard.
A similar question is exercising Caitlin Johnstone. On her blog today she too addresses that of whether to protest. But before I replicate her in full, I have to register my sharp divergence (and, I’m sure, Dave Hansell’s) from one of her claims. She writes:
The only reason Syria and Iran remain sovereign, unabsorbed governments, and the only reason the imperial body count isn’t much higher today, is because enough people put their foot down and said “NO” to that kind of war.
This I cannot accept. Popular resistance to the very successful demonising of Iran and Syria has been pitiful. That Syria remains sovereign (if not integral) is thanks to Russia’s decisive military intervention in 2016, for which the US Empire has never forgiven Moscow and which forms one motive – not the most important, to be sure, but not negligible either – of its proxy war on Russia in Ukraine.
As for Iran, her capacity to wage asymmetrical warfare – including, should she have little left to lose, on the empire’s two key regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia – is formidable. Especially now, as the axis of resistance to US hegemony binds her ever more closely to China and Russia.
I must register too, though less sharply, my own doubts on another claim. Towards the end of her post Caitlin writes:
The US-centralized empire will crumble if it cannot preserve the illusion that it is accountable and responsive to the public.
I hope she’s right, but what I fear – and the signs, for those who care to see, have been with us since at least 9/11 if not the post Vietnam/Watergate rise of the Straussians 1 – is that when no longer able to preserve that illusion, empire will drop all pretence of being ‘accountable and responsive to the public’.
Otherwise Caitlin, as ever, is on the nail.
The Power-Serving Myth That Anti-War Protests Make No Difference
NB – the title links to Caitlin’s post on her own site, which gives an audio version
Thousands of people from across the political spectrum gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC to protest US militarism, proxy warfare and nuclear brinkmanship in Ukraine on Sunday.
I’ve been seeing some people try to downplay the numbers on social media, but footage from the Rage Against the War Machine rally makes it clear that attendance was in the thousands; people who were there place the number at around three thousand.
This is significantly better attendance than any other American anti-war demonstration in recent years that I’m aware of. It’s nowhere remotely close to the historic numbers people demonstrated in to protest the war in Iraq, and it’s nowhere remotely close to what it should be for an issue of such existential importance.
But it’s a start. Maybe the start of something good. The ANSWER Coalition has a March on Washington scheduled for March 18th for the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion demanding “Negotiations not escalation” in Ukraine and an end to US militarism abroad. We shall see if this thing continues to pick up steam.
One criticism I hear of anti-war demonstrations is that they don’t make a difference. “Millions of us marched in opposition to the Iraq invasion, and they did it anyway!” is a common sentiment.
While it’s true that demonstrations failed to stop the invasion of Iraq, if you look at the US war machine’s actual behavior following that war, it has clearly been reacting defensively to public opposition.
If anti-war protests made no difference, the US empire wouldn’t have completely abandoned full-scale ground invasions after 2003 and switched to sneakier, less effective means of warfare while launching unprecedented narrative management systems to suppress anti-war sentiments. They abandoned Bush-era Hulk Smash ground invasions in favor of drones, proxy warfare, covert ops and sanctions because enough people rose up and said “NO” to make them afraid of the masses beginning to wake up and begin turning against them and their institutions.
And now people are even beginning to protest the proxy warfare. I guarantee you that’s making our rulers nervous about the possibility of losing the ability to effectively dominate the world with violence and coercion, and even losing the ability to continue to rule us.
These things very clearly and obviously make a difference. The only reason Syria and Iran remain sovereign, unabsorbed governments, and the only reason the imperial body count isn’t much higher today, is because enough people put their foot down and said “NO” to that kind of war.
Our rulers pour so much effort into manufacturing consent because they absolutely require that consent in order to rule. Their worst-case nightmare scenario is the emergence of a large, robust movement of people saying “NO” to the imperial war machine, because military violence and the threat thereof is the glue that holds the empire together. It’s bringing public consciousness to the very most important aspect of the empire, which also happens to be the very least defensible.
Noam Chomsky said “Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state” because over the centuries those who seek large-scale power over other humans have discovered that dominating people psychologically is more energy-efficient than dominating them with brute force, and is far less likely to see them wind up on the business end of a guillotine blade. If you can simply trick a profoundly unfree populace into thinking that they are free, you don’t have to waste any further energy wrestling their freedom away from them.
But what this means is that the entire power structure which rules over us is entirely dependent on the ability to successfully administer propaganda and maintain the illusion of freedom. If it can’t manufacture consent for the things it wants to do, it has to either refrain from doing those things until it can manufacture the necessary consent or do those things anyway without the consent of the public. If they do that, public trust in the ruling institutions will immediately begin to disintegrate, and they won’t be able to propagandize people anymore because propaganda only works if people trust its source.
Our rulers could of course then switch to the direct bludgeon of totalitarianism if they want to, but then they’re up against an angry populace, and in America’s case a very heavily armed one. All the narrative management that holds the US-centralized power structure together would lose trust around the world, because the “Freedom-Loving Good Guys Vs Tyrannical Bad Guys” framing of imperial propaganda would no longer be believable.
The US-centralized empire will crumble if it cannot preserve the illusion that it is accountable and responsive to the public.
Of course a few thousand people at one protest is not going to bring peace to our world. Even a few million wouldn’t be enough. But public demonstrations are one of the many ways in which our society can be drawn toward awareness of what’s really going on in our world, what our rulers are really up to, and how much we’ve been lied to all our lives. From there health can follow, because with enough awareness people will cease consenting to things that they’ve come to recognize as being against their interests.
All positive changes in human behavior are always preceded by an expansion of consciousness. Demonstrations are one of the many different tools ordinary people have to spread awareness so that positive change can occur; that’s why they’ve featured so prominently in civil rights movements throughout history, and that’s why the US empire has been pouring so much energy into preventing the reemergence of a lively antiwar movement in the western world ever since Vietnam.
All we’re doing is nudging our species bit by bit toward consciousness. Other tools we can use toward this end include new media like online videos, blogs, tweets and memes, and old media like pamphlets, public speaking and graffiti. Anything we can do to get people opening their eyes to the horrors of imperial warmongering and start bringing some actual movement into the anti-war movement will help. Our survival may very well depend on it.
* * *
- I hope to have a post out soon on the Straussians. In the meantime my other post of February 17, featuring Andrei Raevsky, does not use the s-word but captures its essence. See Did the crazies capture the USA? How?
Leaving aside (because once again I’m pressed for time) the standard matter of defining terms – what, for example constitutes “success” – the first question which occurs is the one encapsulated in the BTL contribution from Susan O’Neill on that other thread.
“Meanwhile the STW coalition did absolutely Sweet FA and waited until there was hardship and suffering for anyone else not Russian to become evident and NOW they want to take a stand against war?”
Which boils down in the context of the question posed on this thread of…..
……”Which war are we talking about.”
Because it seems reasonable to observe that this ain’t an pick and mix store with an a la carte menu. And herein lies one the many messier (in the systems sense) issues not tackled by Caitlin’s article.
In an organisational (in terms of decision making entity) church so broad which wars are officially protested and, just as important to the question, on what grounds? Which, and whose, narrative banner are people mustering under? Are they mustering under a controlled narrative – as with so many other instances in Raevsky’s absolutist entity run by the incompetent freaks?
And at this point, unfortunately, despite having other matters to raise, I have little choice but to sign off as a result of other pressing duties beyond my control. Its a start.
Well you’re right about Caitlin’s piece being messy. Her strong suit is raining powerful and easily grasped verbal blows on imperialism’s propaganda wing, and I do overstate – being mightily impressed by her abilities in that sphere – the case in describing her piece as “on the nail”. You are right to speak of “the many messier (in the systems sense) issues not tackled by Caitlin’s article”.
But no one piece can do everything. I can overlook such gaps and omissions to focus on a simple question: should socialists and anti-imperialists stay away from what my other good friend, Bryan Gocke, rightly called “the closest we’ve got to a public platform questioning and opposing US and NATO military aggression in Ukraine”?
Caitlin says they should not. So do I.
……to continue in more depth:
As reasonable a starting point as any, ,in terms of Ackoff’s concept of a systems ‘mess’ ie; degree of layers of complexity) seems to be Caitlin Johnson’s argument that:
“The US-centralized empire will crumble if it cannot preserve the illusion that it is accountable and responsive to the public.”
….which itself appears to be based on the previous arguments here:
“But what this means is that the entire power structure which rules over us is entirely dependent on the ability to successfully administer propaganda and maintain the illusion of freedom. If it can’t manufacture consent for the things it wants to do, it has to either refrain from doing those things until it can manufacture the necessary consent or do those things anyway without the consent of the public. If they do that, public trust in the ruling institutions will immediately begin to disintegrate, and they won’t be able to propagandize people anymore because propaganda only works if people trust its source.
Our rulers could of course then switch to the direct bludgeon of totalitarianism if they want to, but then they’re up against an angry populace, and in America’s case a very heavily armed one. All the narrative management that holds the US-centralized power structure together would lose trust around the world, because the “Freedom-Loving Good Guys Vs Tyrannical Bad Guys” framing of imperial propaganda would no longer be believable.”
In the wider context of the key question the assumptions here do require some scrutiny.
To paraphrase from Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, there seems to be a very sharp knife operating here which is not easy to see.
In the context in which it is presented it seems more than reasonable to interpret the terms ‘manufacture consent” and “ consent of the public” not necessarily as treating the public (ie non elite?) as an undifferentiated mass but in terms of the old adage about not being able to ‘fool all of the people, all of the time.’
There exists at least three key problems here.
1. The propaganda model – at least since Berney – seems to operate more on the basis of being able to ‘fool a sufficient number of people for a sufficient amount of time.’
2. The very successful application of the model over a lengthy period of time – at least the lifetimes of several generations – in differentiating society to an unprecedented point of atomisation.
I suspect this is at the heart of Raevsky’s point about Zone A being internally unreformable.
The familiar social categorisations a lot of us studied forty odd years ago have long been superseded by more complex market based segmentation. I recall being schooled about five years back in the model – I think originated with Experian – which the Labour Party had been using in its canvassing and campaigns for some time until not so long ago. A matrix with well over 100 separate categorisations.
An atomisation in which, despite an expected smattering of objections and ridicule from what is considered the usual suspects, a Labour Party front bencher (in a recent interview in the Times) can confidently endorse the social segmentation of the ‘public’ (based as it is on the old fashioned pre-post-modernist and structuralist concept of society) to the individual by endorsing the principle of self-id without too much push back.
Whilst it may be reasonably argued that recent events in Scotland have demonstrated Johnson’s point about the ‘public consensus’ having a concrete effect on elites and ‘power structures’ who overstep the mark on this issue (self id/GRA) there exists sufficient cause to consider the fat lady has not yet even appeared in the building:
Here’s Scottish independence blogger Robin MaCalpine – who only two days ago waxed lyrical about the potential for the independence movement following Sturgeon’s formal resignation recognising the very obvious stitch up which is taking place:
“I’ve been contacted by a lawyer who has been checking the SNP constitution this morning. And here’s the problem – in an earlier round of abandoning SNP democracy the constitution was amended to enable the NEC to rewrite the constitution at will. It is hard to tell from the current mess of constitution what is actually legal or not – but then it doesn’t make much difference because the NEC can just change it until it says what they want it to say. That may mean that legal routes (such as an interdict) will fail, making it even more important there is a mass outcry. And to my many friends in the SNP, understand this – if the NEC of an organisation can rewrite the constitution at will, you don’t have a constitution, you become an entity wholly governed by your NEC. In that world nothing is ever against the rules unless the NEC wants it to be against the rules. It turns out that even I forgot how bad SNP ‘democracy’ had become.”
Whilst it is the case that you could substitute the Labour Party for SNP in that quote the wider context is that even what rank and file membership remain (never mind the wider ‘public’) have not successfully prevented a single instance of the litany of issues of blatant unaccountability of the ‘power structure’; from the £600,000 missing donations to the stitch up of Alex Salmond; from the widely unpopular GRA to the incompetency over a range of policies which adversely impact on the ‘public.’. No evidence exists that the stitch up of Sturgeon’s replacement and the continuation of the ‘power structure’ position will fare any better.
And ditto, to cite just one example, in the Labour Party. Barely anyone in the membership let alone this ‘public consensus’ is batting an eyelid over the expulsion of Jews for antisemitism among others targeted in the Stalinist purge – which Skwawkbox today is highlighting will be extended to anyone who supports the Stop the War protest (it would be worth attending just to piss these knob heads off):
Indeed, at local level in our Ward recent attempts to debate a motion seeking to overturn a ban on the AWL (a redundant ban on any reading given their rabid support for any and every war narrative from Caitlin’s ‘power structure’ – whether Syria, China or Russia) was vetoed following a complaint by a member to the Ward Secretary who was instructed by paid regional Officials (ie Managers) to not even allow debate. There is little sign of any ‘crumbling’ when the atomised are at the point of policing for themselves the ‘power structure’ requirements.
Point being that the notion of a single public consensus in Johnson’s terms, if it ever existed in terms of a sufficient number of the public to produce a tipping point rather than a simple straightforward mass, has long disappeared.
As a consequence;
3. The notion of the elites attempting to preserve an illusion of consensus and trust seems more likely to be an illusion itself.
Survey after survey in the USA as well as the UK over a long period of time show widespread ‘public consensus’ support for a range of policies which the ‘power structure’ view as unacceptably socialist. Ditto for trust in the ‘power structure’ which ignore that ‘consensus’, where survey’s regularly show a low level of trust by that ‘public’.
Yet, in terms of the behaviour, approach and attitude of the Zone A ‘power structure’ there is no change because there is no serious sign of that ‘public consensus’ acting in the way Caitlin suggests it will in the circumstances and context she lays out.
If what Caitlin suggests in this instance of an internally generated ‘crumbling’ was going to occur it would have taken place already.
In the ‘absolutist’ systemic terms suggested by Raevsky its not just about segmentation to the point of individual atomisation there is also a large element of co-option. Of covering all the bases by controlling all sides of the narrative (see Alan Bleasdale’ s GBH) – the Overton Window where debate is apparent and only within strictly limited confines.
The Uniparty being only the top (political) level of that structure and its processes in which the absolutist ‘power structure’ Raevsky postulates have a lid on as well as a finger in everywhere you turn. Which is why he argues, convincingly given experience and observation, that (as with 1930’s and 40’s Germany – https://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/511928.html ) internal reform is no longer discernible and only outside pressure can change the dead end paradigm in Zone A.
In a wider context in which there exists suggestions* (from what originating source/sources one might inquire?) that Zone A are looking for a way out before externally generated forces lead to internally generated collapse it is not unreasonable to consider the potential that a switch in The Official Narrative (TON) to fold now before catastrophic systems failure (which would give necessary space to regroup for another round when feasible by maintaining that ‘power structure’ largely intact) would be aided by seemingly bowing to the kind of public pressure being applied here.
Which is why it seems reasonable to be wary and suspicious of any narrative, from whatever source, which too closely aligns with that of the power structure. Suspicious bastard? Too damn right.
* the recent Rand report advising against dragging out the war; whispers/rumours of possible ‘conciliatory’ (for a given value of ‘conciliatory’) movement towards some kind of settlement/dropping of Zelensky et al; Macrons recent narrative suggesting defeat but not dismemberment of Russia; the multiple (co-ordinated) narratives for massive rearmament; being merely some examples.