War, Fascism, concentration camps, rubber truncheons, atomic bombs, etc., are what we daily think about, and therefore to a great extent what we write about, even when we do not name them openly. We cannot help this. When you are on a sinking ship, your thoughts will be about sinking ships.
[George Orwell] hardly writes anything about fascism, at all. He hardly writes a single essay saying why you should be against it. He takes it for granted, that when you look down the gun barrel of Hitler and Mussolini and Franco and fascism and nazism, that you don't need to be told what's wrong with it. Here is everything you hate. Here is ever bullying father, every crushed, repressed mother, every sadistic prison warder, every exploiting capitalist, every racist and Jew-baiter, every thug and bully and sadist and exploiter that has ever been all rolled into one, and then refined and double-distilled and then re-done again so you've got the absolutely pure of everything that's hateful. We tend to sneer, or I've heard people sneer, at the use of the word "evil" by politicians. By politicians on should usually suspect the use of this word. But it's not possible, if you want to write morally, or you want to write critically, or you want to write historically, it's not possible to do without this word.
Behind the technological veil, behind the political veil of democracy reality shows itself: the universal servitude, the loss of human dignity with prefabricated freedom of choice. And the power structure does not appear 'sublimated' anymore in the style of a liberalist culture, not even hypocritical (so that it at least retains the 'formality', the husk of dignity), but brutal, in that it abandons all claim to truth and justice.
The political divide about surveillance is about whether or not the ends justify the means. I believe they don’t, or rather that those who focus on the immediate benefits of surveillance are myopic to its other effects on society. Those people by the way are well meaning – always keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind : never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. What it means about surveillance is that we don’t need to have intent to create a fascist regime – we can just sleepwalk into it.
Naturally, one does not want to confront enemies that can fight back, but even much weaker enemies must be destroyed quickly, given the weakness of the domestic base and the lessons that are to be taught.
These lessons are directed to several audiences. For the Third World, the message is simple: Don't raise your heads. A "much weaker" opponent will not merely be defeated, but pulverized. The central lesson of World Order is: "What we say goes"; we are the masters, you shine our shoes, and don't ever forget it. Others too are to understand that the world is to be ruled by force, the arena in which the US reigns supreme, though with its domestic decline, others will have to pay the bills.
There is also a lesson for the domestic audience. They must be terrorized by images of a menacing force about to overwhelm us -- though in fact "much weaker" and defenseless. The monster can then be miraculously slain, "decisively and rapidly," while the frightened population celebrates its deliverance from imminent disaster, praising the heroism of the Great Leader who has come to the rescue just in the nick of time.
These techniques, which have familiar precedents, were employed through the 1980s, for sound reasons. The population was opposed to the major Reagan policies, largely an extension of Carter plans. It was therefore necessary to divert attention to ensure that democratic processes would remain as "hypothetical" as the peace process. Propaganda campaigns created awesome chimeras: international terrorists, Sandinistas marching on Texas, narcotraffickers, crazed Arabs.
Personally, I'm in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions of society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism, we can't have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level - there's little bargaining, a little give and take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward. Just as I'm opposed to political fascism, I'm opposed to economic fascism. I think that until the major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it's pointless to talk about democracy.
As inspection of its domestic programs makes clear, the Administration has no intention of addressing such problems; rightly, from its point of view. Any serious measures would infringe upon the prerogatives of its constituency. For the executives of a transnational corporation or other privileged sectors, it is important for the world to be properly disciplined, for advanced industry to be subsidized, and for the wealthy to be guaranteed security. It does not matter much if public education and health deteriorate, the useless population rots in urban concentrations or prisons, and the basis for a livable society collapses for the public at large.
For such reasons, it is important to distract the domestic population. They must join their betters in admiring "the stark and vivid definition of principle...baked into [George Bush] during his years at Andover and Yale, that honor and duty compels you to punch the bully in the face" -- the words of the awe-struck reporter who released the Policy Review explaining how to deal with "much weaker enemies."
The principle that you punch the bully in the face - when you are sure that he is securely bound and beaten to a pulp - is a natural one for advocates of the rule of force. It teaches the right lessons to the world. And at home, cheap victories deflect the attention of a frightened population from domestic disasters while the state pursues its tasks as global enforcer, serving the interests of the wealthy. Meanwhile, the country continues its march towards a two-tiered society with striking Third World features.
The same Times reporter goes on to quote the gallant champion himself: "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all." The second national newspaper joined in, applauding the "spiritual and intellectual" triumph in the Gulf: "Martial values that had fallen into disrepute were revitalized," and "Presidential authority, under assault since Vietnam, was strengthened." With barely a gesture towards the dangers of overexuberance, the ultraliberal Boston Globe hailed the "victory for the psyche" and the new "sense of nationhood and projected power" under the leadership of a man who is "one tough son of a bitch," a man with "the guts to risk all for a cause" and a "burning sense of duty," who showed "the depth and steely core of his convictions" and his faith that "we are a select people, with a righteous mission in this earth," the latest in a line of "noble-minded missionaries" going back to his hero Teddy Roosevelt -- who was going to "show those Dagos that they will have to behave decently" and to teach proper lessons to the "wild and ignorant people" standing in the way of "the dominant world races." Liberal columnists praised "the magnitude of Bush's triumph" over a much weaker enemy, dismissing the "uninformed garbage" of those who carp in dark corners (Thomas Oliphant). The open admiration for fascist values is a matter of some interest.
On British television, anti-Saddam Arab intellectuals in London, including the prominent Kuwaiti opposition leader Dr. Ahmed al-Khatib, were unanimous in calling for a cease-fire and for serious consideration of Saddam's February 15 peace offer. In October 1990, Dr. al-Khatib had stated that Kuwaitis "do not want a military solution" with its enormous costs for Kuwait, and strenuously opposed any military action.
The silence here was deafening, and most instructive. Unlike Bush and his associates, the peace movement and Iraqi democratic opposition had always opposed Saddam Hussein. But they also opposed the quick resort to violence to undercut a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Such an outcome would have avoided the slaughter of tens of thousands of people, the destruction of two countries, harsh reprisals, an environmental catastrophe, further slaughter by the Iraqi government and the likely emergence of another murderous US-backed tyranny there. But it would not have taught the crucial lessons, already reviewed. With the mission accomplished, the disdain for Iraqi democrats continues unchanged. A European diplomat observes that "The Americans would prefer to have another Assad, or better yet, another Mubarak in Baghdad," referring to their "military-backed regimes" (dictatorships, that of Assad being particularly odious). "This may account for the fact that thus far, the administration has refused to meet with Iraqi opposition leaders in exile," Jane Friedman reports in the Christian Science Monitor. A diplomat from the US-run coalition says that "we will accept Saddam in Baghdad in order to have Iraq as one state," which might be interpreted as meaning: to prevent Iraqi democracy.
A good way of finding out who won a war, who lost a war, and what the war was about, is to ask who's cheering and who's depressed after it's over - this can give you interesting answers.
So, for example, if you ask that question about the Second World War, you find out that the winners were the Nazis, the German industrialists who had supported Hitler, the Italian Fascists and the war criminals that were sent off to South America - they were all cheering at the end of the war. The losers of the war were the anti-fascist resistance, who were crushed all over the world. Either they were massacred like in Greece or South Korea, or just crushed like in Italy and France. That's the winners and losers. That tells you partly what the war was about.
Now let's take the Cold War: Who's cheering and who's depressed? Let's take the East first. The people who are cheering are the former Communist Party bureaucracy who are now the capitalist entrepreneurs, rich beyond their wildest dreams, linked to Western capital, as in the traditional Third World model, and the new Mafia. They won the Cold War. The people of East Europe obviously lost the Cold War; they did succeed in overthrowing Soviet tyranny, which is a gain, but beyond that they've lost - they're in miserable shape and declining further. If you move to the West, who won and who lost? Well, the investors in General Motors certainly won. They now have this new Third World open again to exploitation - and they can use it against their own working classes. On the other hand, the workers in General Motors certainly didn't win, they lost. They lost the Cold War, because now there's another way to exploit them and oppress them and they're suffering from it.
Forum with John Pilger and Harold Pinter in Islington, London, May 1994
No less insidious is the cry for 'revolution,' at a time when not even the germs of new institutions exist, let alone the moral and political consciousness that could lead to a basic modification of social life. If there will be a 'revolution' in America today, it will no doubt be a move towards some variety of fascism. We must guard against the kind of revolutionary rhetoric that would have had Karl Marx burn down the British Museum because it was merely part of a repressive society. It would be criminal to overlook the serious flaws and inadequacies in our institutions, or to fail to utilize the substantial degree of freedom that most of us enjoy, within the framework of these flawed institutions, to modify them or even replace them by a better social order. One who pays some attention to history will not be surprised if those who cry most loudly that we must smash and destroy are later found among the administrators of some new system of repression.