Tag Archives: Boris Yeltsin

Conspiracy and Class Power | Michael Parenti

No ruling class could survive if it wasn’t attentive to its own interest, consciously trying to anticipate, control, or initiate events at home and abroad, both overtly and secretly.

— Michael Parenti

Michael Parenti is a historian and political scientist and the author of many books, including Democracy for the Few; Power and the Powerless; Inventing Reality: The Politics of the Mass Media; Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism; The Face of Imperialism, God and His Demons, The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome; and Superpatriotism.

In 1993 he delivered an outstanding speech entitled “Conspiracy and Class power” in Berkeley, California, that was recorded and preserved on audio cassette from a radio broadcast, and then, more recently, rediscovered in a collection kept by a listener:

A full and annotated transcript is provided below.


Related thoughts for the day

Remember, remember the fifth of November, 
Gunpowder treason and plot…

Across the United Kingdom this evening, people will congregate around bonfires and go to watch firework displays. Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night, or Guy Fawkes’ Night is a uniquely British festival and one that commemorates what has come to be known as The Gunpowder Plot, which in earlier centuries was often called the Jesuit Treason. Nowadays this is widely treated as just a fun night out although there remains a darker sectarian side to the celebrations in some Protestant parts of Northern Ireland.

But ask most people attending a bonfire party tonight and few will be unable to tell you much more than The Gunpowder Plot was a failed attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. They are unlikely to know more precisely that the target of the attack was the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. Or even that this was an attempt to assassinate King James I with the hope of restoring a Catholic monarchy. And in spite of the annual festivities, scarcely anyone in Britain would be able to recall the year of 1605.

Of the plotters the best remembered by far is Guido or Guy Fawkes; a Catholic convert who had fought for Spain against the Dutch reformers. But again, few people in Britain pay much attention to the historical background. They remember the name of Fawkes mainly because it is a gloriously evocative one and because it is his effigy that traditionally was burned on the top of the bonfires: thankfully an increasingly forgotten tradition. In the past, there was another tradition called “penny for the Guy” where Fawkes’ effigy was propped up beside a begging bowl; the children who made him begging donations for sweets – this was Britain’s precursor to “trick or treat”.

In short, the image of Guy Fawkes is confusing. Originally the villain, he has since been almost redeemed and partially transformed into a defiant antihero: during the Occupy protests Fawkes masks were worn at protests all over the world.

Update:  Twelve people were arrested and eight police officers were injured in London’s Parliament Square at a Bonfire Night rally last night after hundreds of demonstrators turned out many wearing Fawkes masks and also burning an effigy of Boris Johnson:

And while Fawkes has become a sort of anarchist superstar, few again could recall any of the names of his fellow conspirators, nor do we give much thought to the motivations of this small band of provincial English Catholics led by (lesser known) Robert Catesby. But the official story – and today’s historical account – is certainly an illuminating one.

Had The Gunpowder Plot taken place recently, then more than likely we would all know it simply as 5/11. Indeed, it shares some features with the atrocity of September 11th that took place across the Atlantic four centuries later: a group of religious fanatics with plans to execute an audacious terrorist attack – failing only because of – if we accept the official story of 5/11 – an anonymous letter was sent to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle on October 26th.

With foreknowledge of an attack, the arrest of Guy Fawkes then sealed the fate of the conspirators. As luck would have it, he was discovered guarding a large pile of firewood in the cellar beneath the House of Lords that was concealing 36 barrels of gunpowder – enough to have razed the building to rubble – during a search conducted on the evening of November 4th. Shortly afterwards, Fawkes was convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

As with the aftermath of 9/11, the political repercussions were swift and drastic, and Parliament soon introduced a raft of anti-Catholic legislation. Many were suspicious and doubted the official story. Specifically, they wondered who had advance knowledge of the plot. According to the current Wikipedia entry:

Many at the time felt that Salisbury [i.e., Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury] had been involved in the plot to gain favour with the King and enact more stridently anti-Catholic legislation. Such conspiracy theories alleged that Salisbury had either actually invented the plot or allowed it to continue when his agents had already infiltrated it, for the purposes of propaganda.

I have highlighted the phrase “conspiracy theories” because it is surely remarkable how more than 400 years on, Wikipedia finds it necessary to downplay contemporary concerns about the veracity of the official story and to draw our attention away from revised historical accounts with this exceedingly modern and weaponised term. And this brings me right back to Michael Parenti’s outstanding talk embedded above – with an annotated transcript below.

Parenti’s central point (and mine) is that conspiracies happen all the time. The Gunpowder Plot obviously involved a conspiracy. 9/11 involves a conspiracy. Whether you subscribe to the fully authorised narrative or not, both of these remain conspiracies. The question then is who was behind the conspiracies: was it carried out by the accused alone, or were others complicit, whether actively involved, or who had foreknowledge but stood down? To those (like Wikipedia) who feel compelled to use this weaponised term “conspiracy theory” whenever a version of the truth differs from the official narrative, I would advise great caution.

Manufacturing consent necessarily involves conspiracies and yet it happens all the time – Babies out of incubators in Kuwait lied us into the Gulf War; false allegations of WMDs in Iraq and Syria have led to more bloodshed; lies about Viagra purportedly supplied to Gaddafi’s troops enabled another war of empire – you name it, war after imperialist war was instigated on pretexts founded on carefully and deliberately crafted lies.

QAnon(sense) was very likely a psyop concocted to distract a gullible audience, exacerbate divisions between political factions and to justify clampdowns on free speech. But it wouldn’t have gained very much traction had it not contained just a germ of truth: Q plainly doesn’t exist, but child sex trafficking is horribly real. Moreover, Jeffrey Epstein ran an elite child prostitution ring that most likely operated as a honey trap for intelligence agencies. And who among us believes that Epstein committed suicide?

As I have documented extensively, Russiagate was essentially a hoax, whereas US meddling in foreign elections and its involvement in coups failed or otherwise inside Bolivia, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ukraine and elsewhere is well-established to have happened.

Covid is a real and present danger but where did it actually originate? Truth is we still don’t know. It is not a “conspiracy theory” therefore to raise the question of origins or even to point toward probable answers.

Finally, if the left doesn’t hold its ground and seek judiciously and consistently to challenge official narratives in attempts to transcend the increasingly narrow positions that are deemed respectable, ‘reputable’ and permissible (the ever-tightening Overton Window), but instead instantly dismisses alternative inquiry, whether valid or not, as “conspiracy theory”, then it serves the interests of the establishment and ruling elites by enabling them to shutdown debate and tighten controls on us.

Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper recently took the Washington Post conspiracy theory quiz only to discover that the Washington Post had failed its own test!

See the full quiz at http://usefulidiots.substack.com



Some years later and post-9/11 (delivered prior to 2012 and possibly 2008), Michael Parenti delivered a speech entitled “Understanding Deep Politics” which follows almost directly from his talk at Berkeley. Embedded below, Parenti’s analysis and choice of illustrative examples gets more interesting and insightful as it goes on:


Full transcript

The transcript below is my own with links also included where relevant:

The title of the talk is conspiracy and class power and the key word in that title is the ‘and’. That is, what you’re getting on the Left lately is a debate in which people are saying: “we mustn’t look at conspiracy, we’ve got to look at the broader institutional systems”. That’s an argument being made by Alexander Cockburn, Noam Chomsky, Chip Berlet, and any number of people.

And I think it’s an incorrect argument, that it’s not conspiracy or class power; it’s conspiracy and class power. And I’m not going to talk about any specific conspiracies in any detail, I want to talk about the relationship of conspiracy to the larger political economic context of the system – I want to start off by talking about that political economic system and I think it can be approached in three basic ways:

First, you can look at the system as a conservation celebration. We’ve had twelve years of that as you know. How wonderful our free market society is and how much more wonderful it would be if it were not for meddlesome government regulations and the demands of undeserving low-income groups that feed out of the public trough. That’s the conservative celebration.

The second approach is a liberal complaint about how some of our priorities are all wrong. How there are serious problems that represent aberrant departures from what is otherwise a basically good system. That would be the Bill Clinton approach, perhaps.

And then the third approach you might call a radical analysis, and that sees ecological crises and military interventions and the national security state and homelessness and poverty and an inequitable tax system and undemocratic social institutions such as the corporate-owned media – it sees these things not as aberrant outcomes of a basically rational system, but as rational outcomes of a system whose central goal is the accumulation of wealth and power for a privileged class.

That is, they must be looked at as part of a context of power and interest that is systemic; and you could look at race, you could look at gender; and you could look at class itself undialectically – just look at it as an income bracket or whatever else – but what I’m talking about today is not class but class-power, the class-power system which is something more and something else.

If you take that third perspective of a radical analysis: if you move from a conservative celebration or a liberal complaint to a radical analysis then you cross an invisible line and you’ll be labelled in mainstream circles as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ or a Marxist or even a paranoiac: terms that some people treat as coterminous.

One theorist I will quote, J.G. Merquior, who wrote a book called The Veil and the Mask, a book which I recommend to you if you like bloated, turgid self-inflated theorising that never pauses to substantiate its pronouncements – and Merquior, he says: “Conspiratorial accounts of social dynamics are produced by vulgar Marxists.” He further asserts that “Class interest is seldom a conscious matter.”

That’s the cool position. Less cool than him was 1837, a Congress person by the name of Abraham Lincoln. And this is what Abraham Lincoln said in 1837 (quote):

These capitalists generally act harmoniously [that’s in concert/together] to fleece the people. 1

Now today Abe Lincoln would be dismissed as a ‘conspiracy theorist’! He is ascribing conscious intent to a class interest. We know that isn’t the way it works, they say.

Now for some conspiracy is by definition ridiculous and non-existent, but in fact, brothers and sisters, conspiracy is a very real thing, in fact it’s a concept in law; people go to jail for it: it means planning or acting together in secret, especially for an unlawful or harmful purpose, often with the use of illegal means. It’s come to mean, in fact, any machination, plot or concerted deception.

The State’s major mode of operation, I have maintained in my books Democracy for the Few, Power and the Powerless, The Sword and the Dollar, Inventing Reality – the major mode of operation is systemic and legalised, rather than conspiratorial – never argue that the State maintains itself conspiratorially: no ruling interest could last long if it tried to control an entire society through the manipulations of secret cabals. At the same time, no ruling class could survive if it wasn’t attentive to its own interest, consciously trying to anticipate, control, or initiate events at home and abroad, both overtly and secretly.

It’s hard to imagine a modern state in which there’d be no conspiracies, no plans, no machinations, deceptions or secrecies within the circles of power. In the United States there have been conspiracies aplenty and I’ll list a bunch of them – these are all now a matter of public record:

In recent decades, the deliberately fabricated Tonkin Gulf Incident, which served as an excuse for escalating the Vietnam War – you mean the president deliberately lied to the people to mislead the American people and are you saying he had this cold conspiracy to get them all worked up for something that never happened? Yes! We now know yes… the Pentagon Papers are out… yes, it was a total fabrication and a lie.

Operation Phoenix [aka Phoenix Program] which no-one heard about in which US forces set up assassination squads that murdered thousands, tens of thousands of dissidents in Vietnam: secretly organised, illegal, immoral, unpublicised.

The Watergate break-in was a conspiracy: an illegal, secret, unlawful act followed by another conspiracy – the second one, which was the one that brought Nixon down – the Watergate cover-up.

The FBI COINTELPRO involving dirty tricks, infiltration and harassment of left dissident groups – I remember reading in The New York Times when the story finally broke and the Church Committee and all that – The august New York Times said: for years left groups have been saying that the FBI has been harassing them and we thought it was paranoia; now it seems to turn out that there might be some truth in it. Well, welcome to reality New York Times; every so often The Times hits right on reality like that and it’s worth mentioning because it’s so rare.

Iran-Contra in which executive leaders conspired to circumvent the law, secretly, illegally selling arms to Iran in exchange for funds that were then used in covert actions against Nicaragua – a conspiracy which the Joint Congressional Committee investigating Iran-Contra said: we will probably never get at the bottom of this immense conspiracy 2 – that’s what they said; it wasn’t some ‘conspiracy theorists’, it was these people there: we will never get to the bottom of this… certainly not the way you guys were investigating it, you would never get at the bottom of it!

The function of the investigation is to uncover some stuff to let you know that the system is self-rectifying and self-cleansing, but not uncover too much as to destabilise the State itself. And you heard guys on the committee saying: we need a successful presidency; we must be careful what we’re doing and all that.

The assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, a matter of public record: the House Select Committee on Assassinations uncovered the fact that there were all sorts of things; it was sparse uncovering, but there have been any number of independent investigators who have uncovered the fact that these conspiracies were done not by some lone crazed assassin, who just suddenly on an impulse devoted six months of his life, somehow financed himself to go kill this or that leader. 3

[Aside: A fortnight ago on October 22nd, President Joe Biden took the decision to ‘postpone’ the release of sixty-year-old assassination-related records that the CIA has steadfastly been keeping secret from the American people. As Jacob Hornberger, a former attorney and adjunct Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Dallas, wrote a few days later:

There has got to be a good reason why the CIA does not want people to see those 60-year-old secret records. That’s why they didn’t disclose them during the era of the Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s. That’s why they demanded that President Trump continue keeping them secret in 2017. That’s why they demanded that Biden extend the secrecy. […]

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, those 60-year-old secret records obviously contain incriminating evidence — evidence that consists of more pieces to the puzzle pointing to a regime-change operation in Dallas.

After all, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the notion that the release of 60-year old records could constitute a grave threat to “national security” is nonsensical on its face. Is there anyone who really believes such nonsense?

Click here to read the full article entitled “Surprise! Biden Continues the CIA’s JFK Assaassination Cover-Up, published on October 25th by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

And here to read a follow-up piece entitled “What the CIA is Hiding in the JFK Assassination Records” published by Counterpunch on November 4th. ]

The CIA drugs-for-guns trade in Central America; covert CIA-sponsored terrorist wars in a dozen countries [most recently in Syria]; the BCCI scandal involving what some call the most crooked bank in the world, in 1990, the motherlode of all conspiracies: the Savings and Loan [crisis] which the Bush Justice Department itself called: a thousand conspiracies of bribe, theft and fraud – a thousand conspiracies – they said we don’t have enough agents to investigate it. Sure, because all the agents are checking out events like this one!

Too busy keeping tabs on people who want to keep raising medical funds for El Salvador to go look at the Savings and Loan conspiracy, which is ripping off literally billions of dollars from the American taxpayer. The greatest financial crime in the history of humanity: Savings and Loan – you’ve been living it and you’re going to pay for it, or we are going to pay for it, so you might as well know about it.

Conspiracies, I maintain, are carried out regularly by the national security state. What’s the ‘national security state’? It’s the White House executive office. It’s elements within the State Department and the Pentagon. It’s the Joint Chief of Staff. It’s the National Security Council, the National Security Agency and the CIA and other intelligence agencies. That conglomeration or operational link groups in that conglomeration are what is known as the ‘national security state’. Well, it can list the Treasury at times, it could list commerce, I feel there are people in Congress who are link to it – I think Sam Nunn’s got one foot [in it].

The national security state is involved in secretly planning operations around the globe. It resorts to low-intensity warfare, special forces, undercover agents, surveillance, infiltration and destruction of dissident groups, the bribing of state leaders, unlawful break-ins, the training of death squads and torturers, political assassination, counterinsurgency suppression, and terrorist military forces against revolutionary governments as in Angola, Mozambique and Nicaragua.

Our rulers themselves explicitly call for conspiratorial activities. They call publicly admit it, except they don’t call them conspiracies; they call them ‘covert action’, ‘clandestine operations’, ‘special operations’ and ‘national security’. Now, if for some reason you don’t want to call these undertakings ‘conspiracies’, don’t call them ‘conspiracies’, give them another name: call them ‘peekaboo operations’, ‘surprise surprise initiatives’; call them whatever you want, but recognise them for what they are – as wilfully planned actions whose real intentions are almost always denied.

If they’re not conspiring, why all the secrecy? I’m reminded of my friend Phil Agee, he was just here a few months ago, and I was sitting having coffee with him when he gave a talk here in Berkeley. When Phil left the CIA, disillusioned because he thought America was helping the world, and he found out that America was doing something quite the opposite, and he left, he wrote a book called Inside the Company.

In 1980, American filmmaker Allan Francovitch produced a documentary featuring Philip Agee and exposing the secret dirty history of the CIA entitled On Company Business which is embedded below. A discussion about the making of the film can be found at the Internet Archive. Francovitch suffered a fatal heart attack in a Customs area at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, on April 17, 1997 whilst entering the United States from England. He was 56-years-old:

The book was banned from the US and I remember that and the government said ‘national security’: it’s banned. I said, wait a minute, the book has been published in Europe in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese – I said, doesn’t the KGB have anyone who reads French or German…? The book was even available in English in Canada. I said, oh but foreign agents aren’t allowed to buy books in Canada, I said to myself!

No, the reason [for] the ban was not intended to keep Agee’s exposé from foreign enemies, but from the American public. It was not national security but the political interests of the national security state in continuing to deliberately lie and mislead the American public. That’s a ‘conspiracy theory’, then you tell me what was the reason for banning a book in the USA that was available everywhere else in the world. Give me the alternative reason. That’s only one small instance of the many cases in which the government uses manipulative measures.

The existence of the national security state also demonstrates that along with issue politics, we have class rule. In academic political science and in our news media, issue politics are either ignored or they’re looked at in a kind of vacuum. I mean you can get issue politics [but] it’s in a vacuum: like this issue comes up, that issue comes up, that issue comes up… and nothing’s linked to anything else.

Some political scientists I know, and I can name two very prominent ones right here in Berkeley, have studied the American presidency for thirty years and written books on the subject and never mentioned capitalism and corporate interests. I remember turning to one – we were on a panel together – Aaron Wildavsky and I said: how could you write about the American presidency for thirty years and never once mention capitalism? And he looked at me blankly. It turned out to be a rhetorical question!

Now to be sure, class interests permeate issue politics: tax policies, subsidies to corporate investments, corporate plunder of public lands – any number of kinds of issues – but issue politics do not encompass the totality of a class system. Class rule is not achieved solely by pressure group politics – by interest group politics. Class rule is not achieved solely by big campaign donations, lobbyists, and other manifestations of interest group politics.

Interest group politics operates within a systemic totality of power and class interest. It operates within the dynamics of a capitalist state system which over and above the desires of any individual elites imposes its own necessities. These systemic imperatives are things that must be taken care of if the system is to be maintained. If value is to be extracted from the labour of the many to go into the pockets of the few, this system has to be maintained.

Conditions of hegemony must constantly be refortified. And that’s something that no one IBM or ITT or General Motors could do for itself. So there has to be central financing and subsidising. There has to be regulating and cushioning competition. There has to be a lot of new research and development that has to be carried out at public cost with the benefits of it then privatised and handed over to corporations. There has to be transferring public domain resources into private corporate hands for their exploitation and profit. There’s absorbing from the public realm riches [that] go to the private realm, and then from the private realm, you absorb the diseconomies, the poverties from the private sector into the public realm. The diseconomies are picked up by the public: you know, the pollution, the toxic waste dumps; all these things we then have to pay for them – we have to pay [for] the homeless, the helpless; whatever else, those are things we have to pay for.

That system [also] has to do something else. It has to act as the agent of class control. It has to mobilise repressive forces at home and abroad. It has to limit and repress dissent. It has to control information and manipulate opinion. This is the essence of the State. That’s what the State is about. It’s to act as an overarching conscious agent – a conscious agent – for maintaining the entire system; doing what no private interest group can do to buttress class hegemony.

To put it simply, the function of the capitalist state is to sustain the capitalist order and it must consciously be doing that. So for those who would deny conscious intent, we would ask: what is the function of the State?

It pushes for privatisation – one of the things it’s very actively doing is pushing for privatisation here at home and everywhere else – in Russia too. You see it in the papers: what are called ‘reforms’; the reformers, the media keeps talking about the ‘reformers’. Boris ‘buy me a drink’ Yeltsin has ‘reforms’. What are the ‘reforms’ about? The ‘reforms’ are to privatise, to open up the vast riches and resources of Russia and hand them over to private foreign corporations for exploitation and big, quick profits. That’s what the ‘reforms’ are. It is to push forth the system of capitalism.

If the choice is between democracy without capitalism, we don’t want it – our leaders don’t want it, that is. If it’s capitalism without democracy that’s much more preferred. Ideally, what they want is capitalism with a window-dressing of democracy. But democracy is a very dispensable component of that whole thing. Now what the media, of course, is doing is associating market economy with democracy; they keep putting the two together.

In fact, I though the presidential debates last Fall – The Three Stooges act that went on – was a very interesting thing, because at one point Ross Perot got up and said: and we’ve got to keep getting our country right, getting it straight, so that we work for building democracy and capitalism. And Bill Clinton started because the guy was saying it – you see you’re not supposed to say you serve capitalism. He’s supposed to say ‘build for democracy’. But Perot was uninitiated in these things [and] came out and said what it really was about – and not necessarily in the order of importance: he said democracy and capitalism. And I saw the moment. I saw Clinton really start that he would say ‘capitalism’ you see. They usually don’t say that.

In sustaining capitalism the State has a monopoly of the legitimate use (legal use) of force and violence. In mobilising that force and violence the State has another extraordinary resource which is control of the public treasury: that is, through a process of coercive non-voluntary taxation they extract from the public monies which are then used to carry out these services. They tell me some things are also done, you know, building roads and schools and those kinds of things, but generally [with] the federal government, that’s what it’s doing.

Well, who is this corporate class, this super-rich plutocracy, this oligarchy that you keep talking about, Parenti? Who are these guys? Well, there’s no mystery. I’m talking about the top 400 families; they’re listed in Forbes, the Social Register. Almost a third of the descendants of whom are linked by blood or marriage to the Rockefeller, du Pont, Mellon and Morgan dynasties. I’m talking about the super-rich 1%; less than 1% of the population of this country that owns 70% of the nation’s wealth. I’m talking about the top 800,000 individuals over the age of sixteen who have more wealth and income than the other 184 million individuals combined over the age of sixteen.

The economist Paul Samuelson, thirty years ago, gave a very vivid image – it still holds. He says if you want to look at the income distribution in this country; if you want to build an income pyramid, imagine taking children’s blocks and each block is a thousand dollars, and you pile them up. The highest income in this country would be vastly higher than the Eiffel Tower, while almost all of us would be not more than a yard or a yard and a half off the ground. This gives you an idea of the spread and the distribution.

Instead of ‘conspiracy theory’ what the apologists for power give us is what I call ‘innocence theory’. Now ‘innocence theory’ has several varieties:

There’s ‘somnambulist theory’ that those in power do things walking in their sleep without a thought for their vast holdings and interests. David Rockefeller wakes up in the morning and he says: what am I going to do today? Am I going to look after my immense fortunes and investments…? No, no, if I did that I would only be playing into the hands of the conspiracy theorists; I won’t do that! And I don’t like unions, David Rockefeller says, and oh, Morgans, Mellons, you don’t like unions either, well isn’t that a coincidence?  I don’t like unions I guess because they sound like ‘onions’; I don’t like onions, yeah, that’s it!

Along with ‘somnambulist theory’ we might explain away their hegemony as ‘coincidence theory’; that by sheer chance things just happen repeatedly and coincidentally to benefit their interest without any conscious connivance by them – and it is most uncanny.

A frequent mode of explanation is ‘stupidity theory’. You hear it among people all the time: they just don’t know what they’re doing! There’s a radio talk show host in this area who every time she has a guest says: aren’t they just a bunch of stupid, goofy guys who just don’t know what they’re doing? Isn’t that it?

In fact, Ronald Reagan for years we heard he was the moronic, ineffectual president; his administration was called ‘a reign of errors’. There was even a book by that title. Even as he successfully put through his conservative agenda, even as he destroyed the progressive income tax, even as he did all the other things that he did, again and again and again – the judiciary, the budget, the welfare spending, military, everything, did all these things – we kept saying: what a stupid dodo. And I felt like I was the only person in America going ‘he’s not stupid, he knows what he’s doing’.

I mean he would flub – you know he went to Uruguay and said it’s wonderful to be here in Bolivia! And at his press conferences and whatever else… But the guy had his class agenda. He was one of the few presidents who got into the White House and knew what the hell he really wanted to do and set out to do it. By the way, Reagan himself used the ‘stupidity theory’ as a defence during the Iran-Contra; he purportedly was guilty only of a lackadaisical, overly casual management style and was not sufficiently in control of his subordinates. That’s what his hand-picked Tower Commission came out and said: he should have had better control and knew what was happening; he didn’t know what was happening.

In fact, some of his subordinates including Secretary of State [George] Shultz who just published a book [Turmoil and Triumph] saying Reagan was in charge all the while and made all those decisions. In court, some of them said the same thing: that the president not only was informed, but he himself initiated most of the Iran-Contra policy decisions that led to a circumvention of the law and the Constitution. He should be in jail. 4

Those who hold to ‘innocence theory’ would have us believe that unjust social arrangements, wrongful policies, are momentary aberrations – so there’s ‘momentary aberration theory’. There’s ‘incompetence theory’. There’s ‘unintended consequences theory’. There’s ‘innocent cultural proclivities theory’. And by the way, to be sure such things exist. I mean there are unintended consequences. There are cultural influences and all that. But do they explain the reasons why the major policy decisions of political and economic leaders – the reasons for the major policy decisions of our leaders?

Evidence and common sense suggest that the rich and powerful are not oblivious to their interests and do not leave things to chance. The ‘innocence theorists’ dismiss those who see evil and evil-doers as paranoid.

A few years ago I was participating in a conference at University of Colorado in Boulder [with] some interesting people like David Dellinger was there; David Barsamian. I think Holly Sklar. I think Ward Churchill was there. And I was to give the keynote address in the evening, and there were these panels during the day, so I slipped away to do what I really like to do, and I went over to find a used bookstore to look for odd titles of books –

And I was standing in the aisle and on the other side of the bookshelf – I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me – were these two guys and one said to the other: hey, you see this conference was on the CIA, imperialism (he didn’t use the word ‘imperialism’, that’s what I talked about), drugs, Central America, stuff like that. And so the guy says to the other person: hey, you see who they have talking up on the campus at this conference? And he says, guess who. Well, it looks like a who’s who in paranoia. And I sort of stifled the guffaw and I said wait a minute, they’re talking about me! And I said, who are those guys and why did they follow me here! No, no, I didn’t say that… But paranoia! These things don’t really happen; we’ve imagined all this stuff about death squads in Central America.

For years the United States financed, equipped and trained a counterrevolutionary murderous army of thugs and killers that conducted a two-front invasion against Nicaragua, murdering tens of thousands of Nicaraguans, destroying farm cooperatives, power stations, clinics, schools, homes, villages, to bring ruin upon that nation’s economy – for years that happened, for years the president threatened them in every way, imposed boycotts and every other kind of aggression – Reagan even said he wanted the Sandinistas to “cry uncle”.

Secretary of State Shultz promised to cast out the Sandinistas from our hemisphere. Yet when the beleaguered Sandinista government charged that the US wanted to overthrow them, ABC News dismissed the charge as (quote): “the Sandinista paranoia”. Washington Post called it: “Nicaraguan paranoia”. In a speech at the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, noted psychiatrist [!], diagnosed the Sandinistas as paranoiac schizophrenics. Very good, Jeane Kirkpatrick – why, you’re so smart! Kirkpatrick’s comment came two weeks after Reagan and Shultz both announced at the United Nations that the United States might have to invade Nicaragua soon. So much for paranoia. I thought of what James Baldwin once said years ago: that even paranoiacs have real enemies.

Well look Parenti, really, aren’t we asking people to believe too much by suggesting there are all these conspiracies? No, not as much as when asking them to believe there are not conspiracies. Historian Frank Kofsky puts it well in his book called Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948 [sic], which will be published in the Fall. I read it in manuscript and let me read a little statement he said:

What would those who are so ready to derisively exclaim conspiracy theory have us believe? That people with enormous fortunes and/or high political positions do not have greater opportunity than the ordinary citizen to get what they want? That men and women who spend most of their adult lives seeking to obtain or retain money and influence, do so only in order to abstain from employing the advantages these confer? That those with wealth and power are inhibited by some mysterious force from making use of their wealth and power to accomplish their purposes? That the rich and well-placed refuse to cooperate with each other in the pursuit of common political-economic goals? If, in fact, there is one thing that characterizes those at the top, it is their readiness to organize amongst themselves to secure their desires. No other group in society ever comes close in this regard.

And I would add, it’s ironic that the group most organised to concert and control is to be least considered as doing so by the ‘innocence theorists’.

As the capitalist state develops it also increasingly develops its class consciousness and it brings forth coteries of policymakers, who move in law, business, military and government circles; sometimes rotating from one to the other. Those who are sometimes referred to as the ‘power elite’, ‘the ruling elite’, ‘the plutocracy’ – more broadly I consider them the active agents of the ruling class.

Their existence is a matter of public record. It’s been documented excellently by such fine scholars as Lawrence Shoup, who’s here today in the audience – that’s not why I’m mentioning him, I was going to do that anyway before I knew he was here – William Domhoff, Holly Sklar; they’ve talked about the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Conference and the other coteries of consciously organised power and policymaking.

These individuals all have a loyalty to a particular class ideology. You could not get into their ranks with a different ideology – if you can give me an example. You don’t have to be rich to be brought into the ranks, although it helps; you just have to be useful.

Kissinger, Nixon, Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton – Bill Clinton, who by the way is a member of the Trilateral Commission, attended the Bilderberg conference and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations – they all come from relatively modest backgrounds, but they gained entry, they proved valuable and reliable. They all become rich after a while: Kissinger, Nixon, Reagan, Johnson are rich now. [Note: we could add Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson to the list.]

William Appleman Williams, another historian: a description of the power wielded in the Woodrow Wilson administration of 1918: I think it’s very interesting, I want to quote it at length because it’s still apt, he says:

First, none of these men was naive or innocent. They very seldom blundered into success or failure. Many more times than not they won because they shrewdly picked their spots and deployed their power effectively. All of them, furthermore, had extended experience in business and politics. They were also men who had to come to terms with and practise the kind of routine deceptions and rationales; casuistry that often seemed to be inherent in the conduct of big business, big law, domestic politics and diplomacy. They were not dishonest in the usual meaning of that term, and they were not hypocrites; they were simply powerful an influential men of this world, who had concluded from hard experience and close observation that all of the truth, all of the time, was almost always dangerous, hence, they did not use all of the truth, all of the time.

Secondly, these American decision-makers viewed economics as of extremely great, if not of literally, primary importance in the dynamic operation of the American system. This does not mean that they were motivated by personal pocketbook considerations; it means that they though about…

By the way, I think they are also motivated by personal pocketbook considerations – it is not mutually exclusive of the larger issues.

It means that they thought about economics in a national sense as an absolutely crucial variable in the functioning of the system per se, and as the foundation for constitutional government and a moral society. And all of them viewed overseas economic expansion as essential to the continued successful operation of the American free enterprise system.

Finally, these men shared a central conviction that the good society and the good world were defined by the forms and substance of Western civilisation as they had manifested themselves in the United States. Some were conservatives concerned to preserve aspects of the status quo that they considered particularly valuable; others were reformers, more interested in improving the existing order; but all of them shared a fundamental belief in, and a commitment to the established system.

(End of quote.)

Now it’s understood that coalminers might consciously direct efforts to advancing their interests, and steel-workers, and small farmers, and schoolteachers, but not these elites – at least according to the ‘innocence theorists’. Now, of course, coalminers and steel-workers publicly push for their goals because they’re trying to enlist the support of other publics; broader publics.

Corporate heads, plutocrats, network owners, policy elites tend to move more quietly, less visibly through the corridors of power, preferring not to stir too much public attention. At other times, by the way, they will actually seek to mobilise public sentiment in a particular direction. For instance, in the mid-1970s we had a very interesting development: business leaders showed an increasingly class-conscious concern for the drift of things in the mid-70s. One corporate leader spoke to his concurring colleagues at a meeting of The Conference Board in 1974; I quote him:

The have-nots are gaining steadily more political power to distribute the wealth downwards. The masses have turned to a larger government.

This isn’t Lenin talking, this is a corporate elite (unquote).

Another top executive concurred; he said (quote):

If we don’t take action now, we will see our own demise. We will evolve into another social democracy…

(Like Sweden or Denmark or something like that.)

This is the research done by Leonard Silk and David Vogel. Silk, a former economics, business writer for The New York Times – quite conscious and explicit awareness of their class interests, speaking in explicit class terms here. Not to the public – they don’t say that when they come on the air – but when they talk to each other, it’s remarkable what they say.

What they wanted was outlined, by the way, very explicitly. There’s no conspiracy. They concerted, they plan, but it was right out there; out in the public. Very explicitly in major business publications from the mid-1970s onwards: a cutback in government spending, massive cutbacks to government spending and human services; they wanted an increase in military spending; they wanted generous tax write-offs and credits for upper income individuals and corporations; and they wanted a rollback of government regulations on business. That’s what they wanted.

Giant corporations like Citibank, IBM, Morgan Guranty Trust, Exxon, Ford and Genereal Motors played an increasingly active and conscious role in financing conservative think tanks like the Hoover Institute, American Enterprise Institute; and seeing that a conservative business agenda penetrated the academic circles and mass media. You saw in the 70s, a mass array of conservative pundits and columnists moving in to the media, and they still clutter up that media today.

Corporate money financed the campaigns of ideologically conservative candidates through political action committees [PAC] and the corporations devoted much more systematic effort to breaking labour unions. By 1978, some of the changes that corporate America wanted were already being instituted by the President himself: a Democrat named Jimmy Carter. He started cuts in human services. He started increasing military spending.

The Clawsons were right. The Clawsons wrote an article in which they called it “Reaganism before Reagan”. I was calling it that then too. I said Carter gave us Reaganism before Reagan. But there were problems with Carter because he was partially beholden to labour unions, the African-American vote, you know. And what corporate America wanted was an unencumbered ideological conservative, and their support went overwhelmingly to Ronald Reagan.

Now they were lobbying for issue politics, but not just issue politics, they were trying to shift the centre of political gravity of the entire policy arena in order to maintain class rule and avoid a social democracy that might cut too deeply into their privileges, wealth, and class power. And they succeeded quite well.

The ‘innocence theorists’ will sometimes acknowledge that there is fault: that some people do some bad things. But when they do they place responsibility on everyone; on an undifferentiated ‘we’. Richard Nixon saying, ‘what a strange creature man is that he fouls his own nest’. And saying, ‘we, we are all the Buddhists’. Erich Fromm once said, ‘we produce cars…’ what? ‘We produce cars with built-in obsolescence and dangers’. ‘We continue to pollute the environment’. An alternative radio commentator on a show I was on announced in 1991: ‘we are all guilty of John Kennedy’s death. We’re all guilty of the Gulf War’. I said, ‘no, we aren’t’.

The ‘innocence  theorists’ can get quite specific about conscious intent and conspiracy if it comes from the left; if it involves militant dissenters; labour unions; leftists guerrillas; peace demonstrators; or leaders of communist forces; then intent is readily subscribed. Then it’s recognised that people will actually be fighting for particular agendas to push certain things – in fact, very sinister intent.

The FBI, you remember, looking at the Nuclear Free movement that was sweeping America and charging that it was KGB directed. Now there was a bunch of ‘conspiracy theorists’ right there, but the ‘innocence theorists’ didn’t turn to them and say ‘are you kooky conspiracy theorists?’ They said, ‘could there be KGB agents or not?’ You know they treated that as a serious proposition.

It’s recognised that revolutionaries are capable of conspiracy – there are even laws against them – that revolutionaries are capable of concerted action directed toward consciously desired goals, but not counter-revolutionaries. Peace advocates, but not militarists and interventionists. Proponents of change, but not champions of the status quo. The poor but not the rich.

Nothing said here, by the way, is meant to imply that ruling class leaders are infallible or omnipotent. That’s the straw man that’s always put up in the literature and the debates we have – these people would say that there’s this cabal of people that make no mistakes, they’re infallible, they consciously know everything, or they do everything… nobody’s saying they are infallible. Nobody’s says they’re limitless in their power.

Despite the immense resources at their command they’re sometimes limited in their options by circumstances beyond their control, by pressures from within the economic system. They have divisions among themselves about tactics, about what’s going to be more effective, or what isn’t. They have pressures for the need to maintain legitimating democratic appearances. By their fear of angry and mass popular resistance, sometimes, sometimes.

But whatever the limits of their power, these ruling elites are as fervently involved in class struggle as any communist. And if they don’t always succeed, they succeed often enough. They may not be omnipotent, but they are enormously powerful. They’re far from infallible, but they have such a plenitude of resources as to do sufficient damage control and minimise their losses when mistakes are made – unlike us sometimes.

One of the characteristics of ‘innocence theory’ is that you never ask why: why are certain things done? And that even happens on the left. See the essence of political analysis is two things: when you analyse the impact of policies and situations, what happens long-range, immediate effects and outputs; the other thing is you try to determine intent.

Well, a few years ago when I was teaching a graduate seminar at Brookyn College in New York, I had Walter Karp come and talk to my class. Walter Karp wrote a very wonderful book Liberty Under Siege, and he’s written other books too, Politics of War.

I asked him, ‘have you ever been accused of being a conspiracy theorist?’ Because you’re placing intent, you’re saying that Reagan is doing these things in limiting democracy, because this, that and the other thing. And he said, ‘all the time I’m fighting against the charge that I’m a propagator of The Elders of the Protocol, you know…’ He said, ‘but the essence of political analysis is to try to define and divine intent. That’s what you have to be looking at.’

And yet there’s so many exposés written that never deal with it. We read about environmental devastation. We read about the terrible effects of US intervention in Panama or Nicaragua or Cuba or here or there. But why? Why is US policy doing this? Why are they doing these things?

We read about costly military bases. There’s a very interesting book on that, The Sun Never Sets, how the US has these global bases all over the world. Why do they have these? Not mentioned. They talk about the costliness of it, the violation of the sovereignty of the countries involved, this, that and the other thing… but why?

So we have even on the left where people don’t ask why. We learned not to ask why because once you ask why then you cross the line from a liberal complaint into a radical analysis. Then you are talking, or have to talk about something, or you have to start doing all those other ephemeral explanations: Oh Bush is doing this because he’s got a macho problem; that’s why he invaded Panama. Or, oh we’re doing this because we’d like to feel big, or we’re just kooky that way, or… these become the explanations.

It’s the same with US foreign policy. We hear again and again: US foreign policy is so foolish. So stupid! Why did we go in there? So stupid! Why are we doing that? Just because you don’t understand what they’re doing, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what they’re doing. And never is it asked, ‘what is the intent?’ Without understanding intent, indeed, US policy remains an unsettling mystery, a puzzling thing to liberal critics.

But such policy is really rational and quite successful. It consistently moves against any nation or social movement that tries to change the client state relations of US dominance and imperialism; that tries to use a greater portion of its natural resources, markets and labour for self-development; moves that would infringe upon the interests of rich investors.

Now, if taken in the larger context, US policy appears consistent and sensible and predictable and mostly successful. But most media analysts and academic analysts lack this larger context; even most alternative media analysts. Once we realise these things about US policy, we move as I say from a liberal complaint about how rational the policy is, to a radical analysis about the rational interests involved, and how a particular policy coincides with similar US policies all over the world for decades, supporting privileged interests against popular movements.

This isn’t a ‘conspiracy fantasy’; it’s a conspiracy actuality to conclude that US leaders were not interested in reaching a peaceful accord; that they were lying about their real intentions to the American public, and even to their own staffs.

Well, isn’t this just a demonisation of ruling elites? I mean you have a demon theory about them, the way they have about you. No, it’s not demon theory: they see me and people like me as a real mortal enemy to their class interest; they’re absolutely correct. It’s not a kooky theory. They’re right about me; I’m right about them!

Are they really capable of supporting death squads, assassinations, tortures, violent deeds like this, I mean, you know, you’re talking about Yale, Princeton, Harvard graduates here? I remember speaking to a former CIA – actually he’d been in the OSS and he’d gone to the CIA in the early years under Wild Bill Donovan – he was in the administration at Yale University when I was back there for postdoctoral, and I remember him saying, ‘well Michael, well you know it’s not a pretty world out there, we have to sometimes do things that aren’t very pretty, because we’re facing some very nasty individuals, so we’re compelled to do this – if the politics in the world were like politics in the US we wouldn’t have to do it.’

It’s pretty dirty in the US too. So they have it all rationalised, but the evidence does come out. Yes, they are capable of such things, even Congress, the last to know – I always think of Congress as the deceived spouse. You know, they’re always ‘the last to know’!

Do you remember during the Iran-Contra hearings, the Republican senators who got up – Senator Cohen of Maine, Senator Rudman of Vermont [sic] – they got up and said, ‘I thought we were intervening in Nicaragua because we were interdicting the arms that they were sending to El Salvador.’ I mean those guys really believe that reason when Jeane Kirkpatrick and Shultz and Reagan gave that reason. I said, ‘Boy, we have boy scouts!’ You read history – that stuff I was doing on the Spanish-American War, same thing… these senators were getting up… They really believe the reasons that are given by the White House; at least, they give every appearance of believing.

But Congress eventually – some elements in Congress – catch on. A very unusual member of Congress, Robert Torricelli, head of the Torricelli Bill against Cuba. Yes, you can hiss, but on this issue somehow – you see Torricelli sponsored that bill because somehow he actually thinks that Cuba’s a bad place, and a danger, and we’ve got to democratise it. He really thinks that’s what it is. So then he finds out what the US was doing in El Salvador, and he says (Washington Post, March 17th ’93):

The Chairman of a House subcommittee, Robert Torricelli, Democrat of New Jersey charged yesterday that the Reagan administration lied to Congress for years about the Salvadoran armed forces complicity in murder, and he said [quote]

“Every word uttered by every Reagan administration official about the observances of human rights in El Salvador should be reviewed for perjury.”

Torricelli went on: “It is now abundantly clear that Ronald Reagan made these certifications about human rights in defiance of the truth.” 5

Welcome to reality, congressman!

I just finished doing an investigation of the death of an American president. He died in 1850, Zachary Taylor. I wrote an article called “History as Mystery: The Strange Death of President Zachary Taylor”. In 1991, his tomb was opened and they investigated because some historians were saying – one historian was suspicious that he had actually been poisoned. And they came out with the report that he wasn’t poisoned, he died of natural causes.

Well, I got their reports and started looking at them more closely and found all sorts of funny things: that the arsenic level in him was fifteen times higher than the normal level in a person walking around; that the antimony level in him was vastly higher, was fifty, sixty times higher (antimony is used as a poison with even a higher toxicity than arsenic); and a bunch of other things.

And so I wrote this whole article. And one of the quotes I came across was by a historian, Eugene Genovese. He was asked by the press, ‘would any political protagonist in the United States of 1950 be capable of such a deed? Taylor, you see, was opposing the slave power. He refused to have any extension of slavery. He was holding a hard line against any extension of slavery into the Western territories, and there was a lot of hard feeling against him about this. And when he died Millard Fillmore came in and the policy immediately shifted: total change in policy; the Compromise of 1850 came in and the slave powers got all they wanted. Fugitive Slave laws were strengthened. I won’t go into any more particulars.

That’s what it was all about: there was a real political interest involved. And Genovese says: ‘I can’t imagine any Southern personalities who would have been involved in such a conspiracy.’ Now, it’s an interesting thing when you make these kind of statements because it’s a reflection of you. It’s a reflection of how moderate and decent you are, when you say, ‘I can’t imagine this kind of crazy thing happening.’

If you can imagine this kind of crazy thing happening; this sort of begins to raise some question about your credibility you see. Because I can’t imagine if there could’ve been anybody involved in such a conspiracy. He goes on, he says, ‘but there’s always the possibility that there were some nuts who had access to him and did it.’

Well, I want to say that history shows us that nuts are not the only ones capable of evil deeds. That gentlemen of principle and power, of genteel manner, can arrive at very grim decisions. If they commit crimes, it’s not because they harbour murky and perverse impulses, but because they feel compelled to deal with the dangers that are opposed to their way of life.

This doesn’t mean that they’re motivated by purely financial reasons, although that’s a very real consideration I think, but they equate their vital interests with the well-being of their society and the nation. In this case, with the well-being of the cause of Southern rights. And far from being immoral, or unscrupulous, they are individuals of principles that are so lofty as to elevate them above the restraints of ordinary morality.

They don’t act on sudden impulse. The feeling grows among them that something must be done; something that’s best for all. That the situation is becoming intolerable. They move gradually toward the position – the change is gradual and yet it’s so compelling that when they arrive at their decision, they’re no longer shocked by the extreme measures they’re willing to employ.

The execution of the unsavoury deed is made all the easier by delegating its commission to lower level operatives. Most of the evil in history is perpetrated not by lunatics or monsters or lone psychotics, but by persons of responsibility and commitment whose most unsettling aspect is the apparent normality of their deportment.

It’s like child molesters. We’re finally saying there’s danger in the stranger. It’s not the stranger we find out are the child molesters and the abusers – it’s not some guy who goes around like this with drool coming down like this – it’s the, in many case, upright, estimable gentlemen of the community, who no-one would believe could do such a thing.

I want to point out that the social order itself is not without intent. That you can think of a social order operating with immense impersonality and yet it too has intent.

I had a friend years ago who was a nurse and when she was trained as a nurse she had three patients. And she did very well with these patients, she had a real knack for it; she talked to them, and that’s a good part of the healing process you know, their feelings and all that, and she really liked her work.

And then, she went to work in a hospital, and she was the only nurse on the whole ward: she had twenty-five to thirty patients. Now nobody can take care of twenty-five to thirty patients. And what begins to happen after a while she gets irritated and angry, and she starts to get annoyed, and feeling that they are wanting to be pampered and all that and [she’s] getting very curt with the patients: acting like a nurse.

So what you see here is the patients are ascribing this behaviour to her personality, when in fact its behaviour that’s the result of a structured situation that’s beyond her control – which is too many patients to take care of. But there’s something more to that story.

The hospital is run by a bunch of rich directors and profiteers. They make the decision to maximise their profits, they cut down on staff. The more you cut down on staff, the more you increase your rate of exploitation per person you’ve employed. If I can get one person to do the work of three that increases my profits. So that board of directors which drew huge salaries and extracted large profits for the corporate shareholders at the hospital were very much involved in that paradigm between nurse and patient.

You know Marx and Freud have very little in common, but one thing they do have in common is this idea that human behaviour is often prefigured by forces that are removed from the immediate situation. For Freud, it was all-out hidden agendas and our family and our parents and all that; for Marx, it’s the social situation, the class structure, the institutions and the culture and those kinds of thing, which are operating in ways we don’t see.

It’s the nature of our culture that we don’t see it. And we immediately ascribe it to some psychological or personality component of the other person. It’s not that the directors of that hospital, by the way, took pleasure in overworking the nursing staff and seeing them hassled and irritable. I mean quite the contrary; they’d want a staff that’s pleasant to the patients. But different institutional arrangements evoke different forms of behaviour.

The fact that a dispirited workforce is unintentional does not mean there is no interested power involved. The fact that it’s unintentional, that effect, doesn’t mean there are not intentions working to get some kind of effect there. In other words, institutional arrangements may have unintended effects, but if the arrangements are serving explicit interests, how really unintended are the effects?

And you want to see, by the way, when those interests are threatened. It’s impressive how conscious intention can suddenly be mobilised in situations where conscious intention supposedly plays no role.

This applies to the debate that’s going on right now about the JFK assassination conspiracy. That there are people saying that we shouldn’t get hung up on conspiracies, we should be looking at the larger institutional forces. And what I am arguing is that those larger institutional forces are directed by conscious human agency. And those agencies use conspiracy or non-conspiracies – use conspiratorial forces or non-conspiratorial forces – and that the conspiratorial forces are important; they’re not rare exceptions – and that they are systemic in the nature; and in their output.

There are those who said that, ‘yeah, so three-fourths of the American people believe that John Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy; so what, three-fourths of the American people – Cockburn’s made this argument, Chomsky’s made this argument to me – three-fourths of the American people believe in miracles too. Well, that’s a very facile argument. It’s a confusion. They’re confusing the gullibility about miracles with the public’s refusal to be gullible about the story that the officials are handing down to them about how Kennedy was killed. It’s quite different.

So what I would say is, what I would say to our friends is that we ought not to patronise the public; we ought to educate ourselves about the actualities of that murder, and about every other conspiracy that goes on. We should not dismiss these conspiracies as distractions from the bigger picture, but see how they are an essential part of the bigger picture.

The concern with conspiracy and assassination is not a manifestation of Camelot yearnings, it’s not a search for lost messiahs, or father figures; it’s an immature, kooky idea. It is the angry realisation that state power is used in gangster ways by gentlemen gangsters who defend imperialism and the national security state. Concern about these issues is not gullibility, it’s not irrational yearnings for lost leaders, but it’s an expression of public concern about the nature of our government.

The expression of public concern about the nature of our government; the angry criticism: there’s a name for that, and that is called democracy, and let’s have more of it.

Thank you very much.


Hat tip to Max Blumenthal for drawing my attention to Michael Parenti’s talk and also to independent journalist and environmental activist Cory Morningstar for featuring it on her blog Wrong Kind of Green, where you can also find the quote at the top of this article.


1 Speech to Illinois legislature (January 1837); This is Lincoln’s First Reported Speech, found in the Sangamo Journal (28 January 1837) according to McClure’s Magazine (March 1896); also in Lincoln’s Complete Works (1905) ed. by Nicolay and Hay, Vol. 1, p. 24.

2 The Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair was released on November 18, 1987.

Below are excerpts of the Executive Summary’s “findings and conclusions”

[T]he question whether the President knew of the diversion is not conclusive on the issue of his responsibility. The President created or at least tolerated an environment where those who did know of the diversion believed with certainty that they were carrying out the President’s policies.

This same environment enabled a secretary who shredded, smuggled, and altered documents to tell the Committees that ‘sometimes you have to go above the written law;’ and it enabled Admiral Poindexter to testify that ‘frankly, we were willing to take some risks with the law.’ It was in such an environment that former officials of the NSC staff and their private agents could lecture the Committees that a ‘rightful cause’ justifies any means, that lying to Congress and other officials in the executive branch itself is acceptable when the ends are just, and that Congress is to blame for passing laws that run counter to Administration policy. What may aptly be called the ‘cabal of the zealots’ was in charge.”



The House Assassinations Committee concluded in its final report July 17 that conspiracies probably played a role in the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The committee, which spent two years and $5.4 million investigating the deaths, was unable to pinpoint any specific conspiracy, and its report criticized agencies involved in earlier probes for not pursuing information that could have uncovered such plots. […]

The committee agreed with the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy Nov. 23, 1963, by firing three shots at the president from the Texas School Book Depository Building in Dallas.

However, the panel said scientific acoustical evidence indicated a fourth shot was fired and “establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at [Kennedy].”

Kennedy “probably was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy,” the report stated, but committee members were “unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.” They ruled out involvement by the Soviet or Cuban governments, the Secret Service, CIA or FBI. […]

The committee concluded that James Earl Ray killed King on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. But the committee said there was “substantial evidence to establish the existence of a St. Louis conspiracy to finance the assassination of Dr. King.”



Was President Reagan aware that his agents were offering Iran a ransom of arms to buy back hostages? Was George Bush a full participant in that demeaning decision, despite his frequent protestations of being “out of the loop”?

The answer to both questions, according to the first part of former Secretary of State Shultz’s memoirs, excerpted this week in Time magazine, is a dismaying “yes.” His eyewitness evidence shows that Reagan lied to himself, sticking to a script denying reality; Bush lied only to investigators and the public.

From an article entitled “George Shultz’s Book Stirs up a Hornet’s Nest of Iran-Contra Lies”, written by William Safire, published by Chicago Tribune on February 5, 1993. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1993-02-05-9303175679-story.html

5 Based on the original article entitled “Reagan Administration Accused of Lies on El Salvador” written by John M. Goshko, published in the Washington Post on March 17, 1993. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1993/03/17/reagan-administration-accused-of-lies-on-el-salvador/857e23c3-c709-4fc7-868b-08ff210ccad0/ 


Filed under analysis & opinion, did you see?, Latin America, USA

Catastroika: the other price of austerity

A little over a year ago, Greek journalists Katerina Kitidi and Aris Hadjistefanou released an important documentary film called Debtocracy. Their film showed how the financial catastrophe now taking place in Greece and elsewhere in Europe is nothing new, and, drawing parallels with earlier austerity offensives in places like Argentina and Ecuador, also presented a way out of the current debt crisis on the basis of previously established precedents – most importantly the precedent for the cancellation of odious debts. It is available to watch online for free, with the option of English, Spanish, Portuguese and French subtitles.

Click here to read an earlier review and also to watch a version with English subtitles.

The same film-makers have now released what is in effect a sequel to Debtocracy. Entitled Catastroika for reasons that quickly become apparent, this latest documentary looks more closely at the other side of the story, revealing how the emergency fire sale of Greek public assets is also nothing new.

Beginning in Russia in the early 1990s, the film shows the devastating consequences of Boris Yeltsin’s programme of IMF and the World Bank backed ‘liberalisation’ and ‘reform’. Resistance to these measures had been strong and so ultimately, following a wave of mass protests, Yeltsin took the extraordinary decision to storm his own parliament with a direct military assault, killing hundreds of his opponents who were trapped inside.

Catastroika also looks into the effects of deregulation of public services in other places around the world. The sell-off and the deliberate destruction of Eastern competitors following German reunification, and in Britain, the Major government’s disastrous privatisation of our rail network. The film details how Railtrack‘s poor safety record and spiralling costs eventually led to the collapse of the company and its de facto renationalisation; the longer term consequence being increased prices and larger state subsidies than when the whole rail system had been publicly maintained and operated.

The film then moves to Paris and investigates Jacques Chirac’s sale of the Parisian water supply into the monopoly hands of Veolia and Suez in spite of giving no economic justification and against huge public opposition. Lastly, it looks into the deregulation of the electricity industry in California, and how this was very cleverly exploited by Enron and other companies who deliberately caused blackouts in order to hike prices.

Drawing upon expert support from academics and other informed opponents to such privatisation initiatives, the film also includes more general analysis from Naomi Klein, Greg Palast and Ken Loach.

Click here to watch the full documentary with English subtitles.

To visit the official website for Catastroika click here.



Since I wrote this review, several versions of Catastroika have been uploaded on youtube with English subtitles. The one embedded below seems to be a good one:

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Filed under austerity measures, Britain, debt cancellation, did you see?, France, Greece, Greg Palast, Italy, neo-liberalism, Russia, USA