The State in Hyper-Drive:
review by Paul Glavin
Prior to the attacks, the movement against capitalist globalization and the anarchist-wing of this new movement were in ascendancy. The anarchist movement had been enjoying a revival of activity and visibility not experienced in the United States since the 1920s. The events of September 11th put the brakes on both the growing anti-globalization movement in the United States and, with it, the anarchist movement. We need to regroup and think through what has changed and what remains the same. We need to figure out the "post-September 11th world" so we can begin again to move toward our goals. These three books, in varying ways, help in this process.
Nancy Chang's book, Silencing Political Dissent, is a detailed analysis of recent legislation, such as the USA PATRIOT Act, the detention of up to two thousand immigrants without charges, and various Draconian executive orders and policy changes. She also analyzes other instances when the U.S. government has taken repressive measures in history. Parenti's book, The Terrorism Trap, steps back from the events of September 11th to look at the historical and political-economic context in which they took place, including a chapter on Afghanistan's recent history. Howard Zinn's book, Terrorism and War, is based on a series of interviews conducted by Anthony Arnove, a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). Despite his affiliation with this authoritarian organization, Arnove asks well-informed, interesting questions which help to create a well-rounded presentation by Zinn. Of the three, Zinn has the best politics, being a libertarian socialist or anarchist, Chang is a liberal who defends the Constitution and the highest ideals of the United States, and Parenti is an Old Left Marxist.
The Assault on Civil Liberties
A large part of Chang's book examines the ideological nature of the USA PATRIOT Act. This legislation (hastily drafted and spanning 342 pages) was passed overwhelmingly by Congress just over a month after the September 11th attacks, in the near hysterical climate of the time. Chang summarizes her critique succinctly: "First, the Act places our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and political association in jeopardy by creating a broad new crime of 'domestic terrorism' and denying entry to noncitizens on the basis of ideology. Second, the act reduces our already low expectations of privacy by granting the government enhanced surveillance powers. Third, the act erodes the due process rights of noncitizens by allowing the government to place them in mandatory detentions and deport them from the Untied States based on political activities that have been recast under the act as terrorist activities."(3)
Just what constitutes "terrorism" and "terrorist activities" is defined broadly enough to allow the inclusion of just about anyone who might question unlimited state power or the right of the market to rule all social life.(4) The Act creates the crime of "domestic terrorism," which applies to "acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws" if they "appear to be intended ... to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion."(5)
The application of the term terrorist to people using extra-legal means to influence government—and corporate—policy has a precedent in the case of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). The ELF uses illegal means such as arson to cause economic damage to those they see as profiting from damaging the ecosystem. They go out of their way to ensure no humans are endangered when they carry out their acts of economic sabotage, primarily aimed at multinational corporations, yet they are labeled terrorists by the government and corporations, eco-terrorists, to be precise.
Of course history is propelled by illegality. The world we live in today has been shaped by illegal actions, from the Boston Tea Party, to the sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan in the 1930s, to the Civil Rights campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s. They all were illegal, and one could argue that some of those actions would fit the new definition of terrorism.
In the current climate, political repression will go hand in hand with racism and thus Muslims will be most vulnerable, but so will dissidents in general. As Chang points out, "the government will use this new crime to target Muslim nationals of Arab and South Asian countries, political activists, and dissident organizations for surveillance, infiltration, and prosecution."(6)
In fact, the targeting of Muslims began immediately after the attacks, with the detention of well over one thousand people, perhaps exceeding two thousand.(7) As Chang explains: "With little concern for the rule of law, the government has interrogated without suspicion, arrested without charge, and detained without justification numerous individuals who are not involved in terrorist activities but who match this religious and ethnic profile."(8)
This is racial profiling with a vengeance. Chang documents several examples of how these two thousand people wound up behind bars: "a Moroccan youth was arrested and detained for four months as he sought to enroll in high school when a guidance counselor reported to the police that his tourist visa had expired. In another case, a man from Jordan was arrested and detained as he was seeking to renew his driver's license. In a third case, an Egyptian man was arrested when a police officer he had flagged down to ask for directions asked to see his passport."(9) All these folks and more ended up behind bars.
Traditionally, the constitutional protections enjoyed by American citizens have also applied to non-citizens. That is no longer the case, and the change has come about primarily through executive initiative. As Chang reports, "Freshly minted rules permit the INS to detain noncitizens indefinitely without charge, exclude the press and the public from immigration hearings of detainees of special interest, automatically override immigration judges' decisions ordering the release of detainees on bond, withhold the names of detainees, and subject noncitizens and their representatives to protective orders barring them from disclosing what took place at their immigration hearings."(10) Those held, some for well over a year, have been subjected to less than humane conditions while incarcerated: "Untold numbers of detainees with no links to terrorism or records of violence, charged with no more than minor immigration violations, have been placed in solitary confinement for months at a stretch. They have been housed in small windowless cells under bright lights that remain on twenty-four hours a day."(11)
Chang's book also does an excellent job documenting similar occurrences in U.S. history, going back to the Sedition Act of 1798, up through the Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) in the 1960s and 1970s, and the FBI's campaign against Central American solidarity activists in the 1980s.
Of particular relevance to the current situation are the Palmer Raids during World War I. Then, like now, an immigrant community was targeted for political repression. At that time, a bomb went off at the home of Attorney General Palmer. The administration of Woodrow Wilson used this as a pretext to attack the radical immigrant community. The U.S. government "interrogated, arrested, and detained as many as ten thousand resident aliens who had been targeted based on their political ideology . . . and [this] resulted in the deportation of more than five hundred immigrants, not one of whom was proved to pose a threat to the United States."(12) Those deported included anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.
Another important historical precedent outlined by Chang is COINTELPRO, which the USA Patriot Act officially and openly returns us to.(13) Originally established by the FBI in 1956 to investigate the Communist Party, by the 1960s COINTELPRO widened its targets to include the movements of that era. Today we are treated to empty assurances that government surveillance is meant simply to protect Americans, but looking back a mere thirty years—or twenty in the case of the FBI's attempt to disrupt and stop the movement against U.S. intervention in Central America—we can see what happens when the government increases its attention to those it perceives as a threat. As Chang points out: "In the case of the FBI's investigation of the black nationalist movement, agents were instructed to 'prevent groups and leaders from gaining "respectability" by discrediting them' and prevent the rise of a 'messiah' such as Dr. King . . . 'who could 'unify and electrify' the movement."(14) In fact, from 1963 until his assassination in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was "the target of a ferocious FBI smear campaign, the goal of which was to 'neutralize' him as an effective civil rights leader."(15)
All of this and more came out when a group of citizens used direct action to uncover the government's war against dissent. In 1971, the Citizens' Committee to Investigate the FBI broke into the FBI Field Office in Media, Pennsylvania and turned over seized documents to the press. This led, some five years later, to the Church Committee Congressional Report which "condemned COINTELPRO for having accumulated, in a manner 'indisputably degrading to a free society,' massive intelligence information on lawful activity, including protest activity and domestic dissent, and on law-abiding citizens, for purposes 'related only remotely or not at all to law enforcement and the prevention of violence.'"(16)
Despite the extensive and well-publicized findings of the Church Committee on government surveillance and dirty tricks aimed at its own citizens, the new guidelines proposed by the committee to set limits on the FBI were never enacted. Instead, the FBI itself established new guidelines, which were loosened by Attorney General Smith in 1983 and then replaced by even more permissive guidelines by Attorney General Ashcroft. According to Chang, these new guidelines have set "the stage . . . for a replay of the worst abuses of the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO program."(17)
Chang documents with depressing detail every change in the law and its interpretation that has occurred since September 11th, and the historical and political context within which these new developments take place, making this book well worth reading. Ultimately, however, she believes in the U.S. system and seems to think recent developments are an aberration, rather than the continuation of a long history of control and, when necessary, outright repression.
Throughout the book Chang expresses the opinion that those targeted by the government were "innocent" and not doing anything to deserve the harsh treatment they encountered. The implication is that the state is justified in violating some people's rights, as long as they do something to deserve such treatment. Chang also seems to subscribe to a liberal belief in the inherent goodness of the U.S. State and its Constitution, which is simply being perverted by the Bush Administration. Despite her liberal naivetÚ about the history and intentions of the U.S. government, everyone interested in freedom and direct democracy should read Chang's book.
The Political Economy of Imperialism
Parenti does two things in his book. First, he looks at capitalist economic interests and how they dictate U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Second, he looks at the history of U.S. military intervention to show why the current "War on Terrorism" is unlikely to be any different. In this regard, Parenti's book is very good. One example may suffice. In 1989, the United States invaded Panama, ostensibly to arrest someone previously on the CIA payroll—sound familiar?—by the name of Manuel Noriega. Once the U.S. military was in control, things in Panama changed: "Unemployment, already high because of the U.S. embargo, climbed to 35 percent as drastic layoffs were imposed on the public sector. U.S. occupation authorities eliminated pension rights and other work benefits, ended public sector subsidies, privatized public services, shut down publicly owned media, and jailed a number of Panamanian editors and reporters critical of the invasion. The U.S. military arrested labor union leaders and removed some 150 local labor leaders from their elected positions within their unions. Crime, poverty, drug trafficking, and homelessness increased dramatically."(19) Through this and other examples, Parenti demonstrates clearly and convincingly that "far from being wedded to each other, as U.S. leaders and opinion makers would have us believe, capitalism and democracy are often on a fatal collision course."(20)
On the one hand, Parenti's book does not offer much that is new to radicals. For instance, it is the kind of introductory text which points out that while the United States comprises only five percent of the planet's population it spends more on its military than all the powerful countries in the world combined. On the other hand, it is a decent introduction to the role the United States plays in the world for those in the dark. But his rhetoric may turn off many of those not already convinced, thus limiting his ability to reach a larger audience.
Unfortunately the book also has some serious content problems. For instance, Parenti defends the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and criticizes Noam Chomsky for opposing it.(21) Further, he claims Washington was opposed to the Soviet Union because of "the alternative class system they represented."(22)
Granted, Parenti's examination of the history of Afghanistan does away with the myth that the United States was simply responding to the Soviet invasion, by pointing out that the CIA was actively destabilizing Afghanistan before the Soviets invaded. But this in no way legitimates Soviet actions, as Parenti implicitly asserts. In his presentation of the Taliban, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union, it is not so much that he takes a third camp position, which criticizes both sides, but rather he criticizes the United States vis-Ó-vis these regimes, with the implicit message that they are good while the United States is bad. Parenti is far too apologetic towards regimes that, while outside of U.S. control, do not offer a viable social alternative.
History, From the Bottom Up
One of the impacts of the September 11th attacks was to give those of us living in the United States the type of experience usually reserved for those targeted by U.S. power, either directly or via proxies. As Zinn points out: "The horror of the terrorist attacks we experienced on September 11th is something that people in other parts of the world—Southeast Asia, Iraq, Yugoslavia—have experienced as a result of our bombings, of terrorism carried out by people we have backed and armed. Knowing this should have a sobering effect on any desire to continue with military solutions."(24) Of course by now we know no such sobering up took place and any goodwill the U.S. enjoyed following the attacks has been hopelessly squandered by the Bush Administration.
Zinn is completely opposed to the attacks on Afghanistan: "We are terrorizing Afghanistan."(25) He cites the estimate of Professor Marc Harold who, based on worldwide news reports, calculated more than 3,700 civilian deaths from U.S. bombings.(26) And this was in the first months of the U.S. attacks, prior to the attacks on hostile wedding parties and the like, which occurred in 2002. Zinn quickly dispenses with the notion that the attacks of 2001 were directed at the United States because terrorists oppose our freedom and democracy. He correctly points to the political dimensions of the conflict, namely United States' policy in the Middle East. He points out that prior to 1990, bin Laden was a U.S. ally, a friend going back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Only with the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia did bin Laden turn his attention to the United States. Up to that point he obviously had no problem with any supposed freedom and democracy in the United States.(27)
As for the U.S.'s War on Terrorism, Zinn makes two points. First, this "war" will not succeed because it is not possible to stop terrorism simply by bombing and invading countries. And, second, if you take this strategy at face value and judge its success based on the Bush Administration's rationale, it has not been a success at all: "They say they are after bin Laden, and he becomes the focus; but they can't find bin Laden. And then they say they want the Taliban leaders; yet now they can't get the Taliban leaders. So, even from their own stated objectives—getting the Taliban's leaders or al Qaeda or bin Laden—they have failed."(28) Of course Zinn questions these objectives, asserting that even if they were fulfilled, the "war" would not be won. He further points out that the countries the United States chooses to bomb (Afghanistan and soon Iraq) are those countries in the region not under U.S. control, unlike Saudi Arabia or Turkey for example, which are in effect "client states," and therefore highly responsive to U.S. foreign policy. He also emphasizes that expanding the war to include Iraq "gives the government a perpetual war and a perpetual atmosphere of repression. And it generates perpetual profits for corporations. But it's going to make the world a far more unstable and dangerous place."(29)
Zinn addresses the ideological nature of the War on Terrorism, drawing parallels to the 1950s, McCarthyism, and the Cold War: "Terrorism has replaced Communism as the rationale for the militarization of the country, for military adventures abroad, and for the suppression of civil liberties at home. It serves the same purpose, serving to create hysteria."(30) Zinn, ever the historian, brings up what happened during the Cold War against Communism, which led to "the deaths of millions of people in Southeast Asia and hundreds of thousands of people in Central America." For example, "in 1954, the United States overthrew the government in Guatemala, which was not Communist but which was expropriating the United Fruit Company. In 1973, the government in Chile was overthrown in the name of fighting Communism. The government was not Communist, but it was not serving the interests of Anaconda Copper and ITT. We have to bring up this history and relate it to what is happening today."(31)
In examining the historical record, Zinn responds to Bush's assertion that "We are a peaceful nation" by noting that "since World War II, there has not been a more warlike nation in the world than the United States."(32) This brings us to I.F. Stone, described by Zinn as "one of the great journalists of our time." When speaking to journalism students he would say to them, "'Among all the things I'm going to tell you today about being a journalist, all you have to remember is two words: governments lie.'" Zinn believes it is "very important to know that. Otherwise we are victims of whatever the authorities say."(33)
As the United States prepares for another war against Iraq, it is important to look at the last Gulf War. At that time, Pentagon briefers showed video footage of pinpoint strikes against Iraqi targets, although Zinn points out that, in fact, "pinpoint bombing is a fraud. They discovered after the Gulf War that 93 percent of the bombs turned out not to be so-called smart bombs and that the 'smart' bombs often missed their targets. Overall, 70 percent of our bombs missed their targets."(34)
Further is the myth of "collateral damage:" The United States dropped 88,500 tons of bombs on Iraq during a forty-three day period, "with the goal of, as the Washington Post put it, 'disabling Iraqi society at large.' According to the reporter Barton Gellman . . . 'damage to civilian structures and interests, invariably described by briefers during the war as "collateral" and unintended, was sometimes neither.'"(35)
Another example comes from the bombing of Afghanistan, when the United States intentionally bombed a Red Cross complex three times, "but, according to the New York Times, 'One of the American aircraft that had been ordered to hit the Red Cross supply warehouses missed its target and hit a residential neighborhood instead.'" Is this an example of collateral damage from intentional collateral damage? Of course, all this talk of pinpoint accuracy is intended to make the bombing of a largely defenseless people more palatable to the U.S. population. Zinn argues that if the majority of the American people "knew that we were killing large numbers of people, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, they would not take such a benign view of the Afghan war."(36)
Finally Zinn asks, "If the deaths of civilians are inevitable in bombing, as Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged, it is not an accident. The people prosecuting this war are committing murder. They are engaging in terrorism."(37) Zinn calls for doing "away with the terrorism of fanatic sects and the terrorism of governments."(38) Ultimately, Zinn shares a point of view with the classical anarchists who believed in the intrinsic goodness of people, which leads to his sense of optimism in these dark times: "I do feel hopeful in this time that seems to lack hope, and I suppose that is based on a fundamental belief in the fact that there is a moral good sense in the American people that comes to the fore when the blanket of propaganda begins to be lifted. I think there will be a reassessment, and people who have been calling the war immoral will be vindicated at some point."(39) Only time will tell if Zinn's optimism is warranted.
The Need for a Movement
For Chang, this takes the form of grassroots mobilization and education, which ultimately is aimed at pressing the judiciary and Congress to put checks on abuses of power exercised by the executive.(41) For Parenti, we need to "move away from liberal complaints about how bad things are and toward a radical analysis that explains why they are so." Further, we need "a global anti-imperialist movement that can challenge the dominant paradigm with an alternative one."(42) Zinn wants an oppositional movement: "We can engage in civil diso-bedience, in strikes and boycotts. We can all do what was done at other times in American history when it was necessary to build a national movement to say to the government, "No, you don't speak for us. You're not doing this for us. You aren't doing this in our name."(43)
If we needed a bottom-up, anti-statist, and anti-capitalist movement prior to September 11th, the need since then has only grown. As anti-authoritarians, we need to stand side by side with immigrant communities targeted by the government. We need to challenge the racist practices of the War on Terrorism which play out both at home and abroad. We also need to assert our right to affiliate, organize, and confront the state while not jeopardizing more vulnerable communities through more militant actions. We need to oppose the war on Iraq while using it as an opportunity to put forward a radical analysis of war and its causes, while connecting our analysis to efforts already underway to develop an understanding of capitalist globalization. Finally we should seek out allies in these dark times and argue against attempts by the government—and unfortunately many liberals—to make distinctions between "good protestors" and "bad protestors," arguing for a movement which utilizes a diversity of tactics.
In addition to opposing the state, part of the agenda of this movement must be the change from an oil-based economy to one based on renewable, ecological energy sources. The need for oil not only demands Middle East military interventions, but it is also destroying the planet's ecology by contributing to the Greenhouse Effect and air pollution. As Parenti points out, "Only a substantial effort to develop solar, tidal, and wind energies can make the country more self-sufficient. These alternative sources are readily available, infinitely renewable, [and] ecologically sound. . . . Indeed, if developed to any great extent, alternative sustainable energy sources could destroy the multi-billion dollar oil industry, which is why they remain relatively underdeveloped."(44)
Oil is key to the capitalist economy. Those in power will do anything to maintain their control over its supply. These three books begin to tear away the fašade of the War on Terrorism and reveal what it really is: a war to maintain U.S. global hegemony, increase control over Middle Eastern oil reserves, and guard against the rise of any internal movement which may threaten these objectives.