Y e l l o w F i n c h Y e l l o w F i n c h

Strangers. Ghost. Faith. Milena Shakujo

Fundamental Currents in Society (1973)


Excerpted from Jacques Ellul. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes.

Propaganda must not only attach itself to what already exists in the individual, but also express the fundamental currents of the society it seeks to influence. Propaganda must be familiar with collective sociological presuppositions, spontaneous myths, and broad ideologies. By this we do not mean political currents or temporary opinions that will change in a few months, but the fundamental psycho-sociological bases on which a whole society rests, the presuppositions and myths not just of individuals or of particular groups but those shared by all individuals in a society, including men of opposite political inclinations and class loyalties.

A propaganda pitting itself against this fundamental and ac­cepted structure would have no chance of success. Rather, all effective propaganda is based on these fundamental currents and expresses them. Only if it rests on the proper collective beliefs will it be understood and accepted. It is part of a complex of civilization, consisting of material elements, beliefs, ideas, and institutions, and it cannot be separated from them. No propaganda could succeed by going against these structural elements of so­ciety. But propaganda’s main task clearly is the psychological reflection of these structures.

It seems to us that this reflection is found in two essential forms: the collective sociological presuppositions and the social myths. By presuppositions we mean a collection of feelings, be­liefs, and images by which one unconsciously judges events and things without questioning them, or even noticing them. This collection is shared by all who belong to the same society or group. It draws its strength from the fact that it rests on general tacit agreement. Whatever the differences of opinion are among people, one can discover beneath the differences the same beliefs — in Americans and in Russians, in Communists and in Chris­tians. These presuppositions are sociological in that they are pro­vided for us by the surrounding milieu and carry us along in the sociological current. They are what keeps us in harmony with our environment.

It seems to us that there are four great collective sociological presuppositions in the modern world. By this we mean not only the Western world, but all the world that shares a modern tech­nology and is structured into nations, including the Communist world, though not yet the African or Asian worlds. These common presuppositions of bourgeois and proletarian are that man’s aim in life is happiness, that man is naturally good, that history de­velops in endless progress, and that everything is matter.

The other great psychological reflection of social reality is the myth. The myth expresses the deep inclinations of a society. With­out it, the masses would not cling to a certain civilization or its process of development and crisis. It is a vigorous impulse, strongly colored, irrational, and charged with all of man’s power to believe. It contains a religious element. In our society the two great funda­mental myths on which all other myths rest are Science and His­tory. And based on them are the collective myths that are man’s principal orientations: the myth of Work, the myth of Happiness (which is not the same thing as the presupposition of happi­ness), the myth of the Nation, the myth of Youth, the myth of the Hero.

Propaganda is forced to build on these presuppositions and to express these myths, for without them nobody would listen to it. And in so building it must always go in the same direction as society; it can only reinforce society. A propaganda that stresses virtue over happiness and presents man’s future as one domi­nated by austerity and contemplation would have no audience at all. A propaganda that questions progress or work would arouse disdain and reach nobody; it would immediately be branded as an ideology of the intellectuals, since most people feel that the serious things are material things because they are related to labor, and so on.

It is remarkable how the various presuppositions and aspects of myths complement each other, support each other, mutually defend each other: If the propagandist attacks the network at one point, all myths react to the attack. Propaganda must be based on current beliefs and symbols to reach man and win him over. On the other hand, propaganda must also follow the general direction of evolution, which includes the belief in progress. A normal, spontaneous evolution is more or less expected, even if man is completely unaware of it, and in order to succeed, propa­ganda must move in the direction of that evolution.

The progress of technology is continuous; propaganda must voice this reality, which is one of man’s convictions. All propa­ganda must play on the fact that the nation will be industrialized, more will be produced, greater progress is imminent, and so on. No propaganda can succeed if it defends outdated production methods or obsolete social or administrative institutions. Though occasionally advertising may profitably evoke the good old days, political propaganda may not. Rather, it must evoke the future, the tomorrows that beckon, precisely because such visions impel the individual to act. Propaganda is carried along on this cur­rent and cannot oppose it; it must confirm it and reinforce it. Thus, propaganda will turn a normal feeling of patriotism into a raging nationalism. It not only reflects myths and presupposi­tions, it hardens them, sharpens them, invests them with the power of shock and action.

It is virtually impossible to reverse this trend. In a country in which administrative centralization does not yet exist, one can propagandize for centralization because modern man firmly be­lieves in the strength of a centrally administered State. But where centralization does exist, no propaganda can be made against it. Federalist propaganda (true federalism, which is opposed to na­tional centralism; not such supernationalism as the so-called Soviet or European federalism) can never succeed because it is a challenge to both the national myth and the myth of progress; every reduction, whether to a work unit or an administrative unit, is seen as regression.

Of course, when we analyze this necessary subordination of propaganda to presuppositions and myths, we do not mean that propaganda must express them clearly all the time; it need not speak constantly of progress and happiness (although these are always profitable themes), but in its general line and its infra­structure it must allow for the same presuppositions and follow the same myths as those prevalent in its audience. There is some tacit agreement: for example, a speaker does not have to say that he believes “man is good”: this is clear from his behavior, language, and attitudes, and each man unconsciously feels that the others share the same presuppositions and myths. It is the same with propaganda: a person listens to a particular propaganda because it reflects his deepest unconscious convictions without expressing them directly. Similarly, because of the myth of prog­ress, it is much easier to sell a man an electric razor than a straight-edged one.

Finally, alongside the fundamental currents reflected in pre­suppositions and myths, we must consider two other elements. Obviously the material character of a society and its evolution, its fundamental sociological currents, are linked to its very structure. Propaganda must operate in line with those material currents and at the level of material progress. It must be associated with all economic, administrative, political, and educational development, otherwise it is nothing. It must also reflect local and national idiosyncrasies. Thus, in France, the general trend toward sociali­zation can be neither overridden nor questioned. The political Left is respectable; the Right has to justify itself before the ideol­ogy of the Left (in which even Rightists participate). All propa­ganda in France must contain—and evoke—the principal elements of the ideology of the Left in order to be accepted.

But a conflict is possible between a local milieu and the na­tional society. The tendencies of the group may be contrary to those of the broader society; in that case one cannot lay down general rules. Sometimes the tendencies of the local group win out because of the group’s solidarity; sometimes the general society wins out because it represents the mass and, therefore, unanimity. In any case, propaganda must always choose the trend that normally will triumph because it agrees with the great myths of the time, common to all men. The Negro problem in the Ameri­can South is typical of this sort of conflict. The local Southern milieu is hostile to Negroes and favorable to discrimination, whereas American society as a whole is hostile to racism. It is almost certain, therefore, despite the deep-rooted prejudices and the local solidarities, that racism will be overcome. The South­erners are on the defensive; they have no springboard for external propaganda—for example, toward the European nations. Propa­ganda can go only in the direction of world opinion—that of Asia, Africa, almost all of Europe. Above all, when it is anti-racist, it is helped along by the myth of progress.

It follows that propaganda cannot be applied everywhere alike, and that—at least up to now—propaganda in both Africa and Asia must be essentially different from propaganda in the rest of the world. We stress “at least up to now” because those countries are being progressively won over by Western myths and are developing national and technological forms of society. But for the moment these myths are not yet everyday reality, flesh and blood, spiritual bread, sacred inheritance, as they are with us. To sum up, propaganda must express the fundamental currents of society.

see also:







Download Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s attitudes: http://www.balderexlibris.com/public/ebook2/Ellul_Jacques_-_Propaganda.zip  


“It is no secret that millions of native people around the world have been forced off their homelands to make way for oil, mines, timber, and agriculture. But few people realize that the same thing has happened for a cause which is considered by many as much nobler: land and wildlife conservation. Indigenous peoples evicted from their ancestral homelands, for conservation initiatives, have never been counted; they are not even officially recognised as refugees. The number of people displaced from their traditional homelands is estimated to be close to 20 million – 14 million in Africa alone. These expelled native peoples have been living sustainably for generations on what can only be reasonably regarded as their ancestral land.” [Watch: Conservation Refugees - Expelled from Paradise (24:18)

One NGO at the helm of stealth land grab ventures is Conservation International. Since its inception in 1987, Conservation International has continued to use “its considerable financial resources, political influence and environmental sweet talk to quietly access, administer and buy biodiverse areas throughout the world and put them at the disposal of transnational corporations.” [Conservation International: privatizing nature, plundering biodiversity, October 2003] Not to be lost is the fact that Conservation International has utilized the same soft power strategies in their ecotourism ventures (also dependent on Indigenous knowledge/peoples) as they have in their land/big pharma exploits in partnership with Monsanto and Novartis. [Further reading: Fundacion Pachamama is Dead – Long Live ALBA [Part I of an Investigative Report]

 “REDD+ is driven by profit interests and is structured to allow polluters to continue polluting while increasing profits and enclosing lands.” — A colonial mechanism to enclose lands: A critical review of two REDD+-focused special issues, Joanna Cabello and Tamra Gilbertson, June 12, 2012

21st century market-based climate mitigation strategies are merely business opportunities to further corporate power. By normalizing such opportunistic exploitation, rather than exposing/rejecting it, one is complicit in promoting, thus prolonging, the dominant development model that is unjust, unethical, genocidal and ultimately, suicidal. The WWF certification schemes are but one set of such false solutions and green illusions. At present, WWF et al are waiting for the windfall that is slowly beginning to come into fruition under the much sought-after market mechanism REDD (which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

It must be understood that REDD will not mitigate further ecological degradation and collapse (under the guise of so-called conservation). Rather, REDD will only serve to further strengthen corporate power as well as gained access and control of the Earth’s last remaining forests.

“This is an effort to address the varying assumptions from the academic journals – that REDD+ can be fixed with more governance, finance and/or community engagement – through a critique of the wider neoliberal climate regime, issues of ‘governance’ as an unproblematised category, and by exploring, from de-colonialist and environmental justice perspectives, the issues of real participation and sustainability. We conclude that REDD+ is framed within an epistemological understanding of forests and lands which supports the domination of nature by humans for economic profit, regardless of financial input, governance and/or participation from communities, and therefore will not be a successful means of climate mitigation or forest protection.” — A colonial mechanism to enclose lands: A critical review of two REDD+-focused special issues, Joanna Cabello and Tamra Gilbertson, June 12, 2012 [Emphasis added]

[Further reading on REDD: Fundación Pachamama is Dead – Long Live ALBA | Part II]

Millions of hectares of forest in Indonesia and Malaysia have been grossly and violently exploited. Cleared for palm oil (to manufacture processed foods for the wealthy states plagued with OBESITY), the palm oil plantations have destroyed whole communities, cultures, and thriving living ecosystems along with the flourishing wildlife within them. The degradation and pillage that have resulted are so severe that palm oil investors are now turning to the west coast of Africa as the industry’s next frontier. A recent forest burning in Sumatra resulted in one of Southeast Asia’s worst air-pollution crises in history, blanketing neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia with record levels of smog. As a result, in May 2013 Indonesia extended a moratorium on the issuance of new plantation and timber concessions in primary forests and peatland. Desperate to ensure growth of the vile industry, Norway has agreed to provide the country with up to $1 billion in financing to “help reduce deforestation.” [Source]


Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake 
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all enemies,
which was the destruction of all obstacles, which was the destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the ground and covered over.

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from. 

You already see what’s going on in the Ukraine and in Turkey. You are going to see this spread to India and Europe. The people are restless and they are waking up to the corruption that’s going on throughout the world, and how the elites are taking almost everything, and how almost everybody else is left with nothing.

If you want to know a business that will thrive in 2014, it may well be guillotines because these are ‘Off with their heads’ moments. When you are hearing these people from Davos demeaning the people for complaining that far too few have much too much, and way too many have much too little, and the Davos horde compares it to ‘Krystallnacht,’ the German tragedy, you know that the Davos elites have lost their minds and they are completely out of touch with reality.

The entire global financial system has been floating on the fumes of the US Federal Reserve’s Ponzi scheme. So now with the Fed announcing the first tapering, and then the second, you can already see chaos engulfing the world as the Fed’s global financial scheme is collapsing. This collapse is engulfing the entire world, from Russia, to South Africa, into China and emerging markets across the globe. And the only way to stop this global route will be for the Fed to reverse course and dramatically increase QE.

—Gerald Celente (via the-anarchic-astronaut)

Today, men and women are going into Thailand, the Philippines, Botswana, Bolivia and every other country where they hope to find people desperate for work. They go to these places with the express purpose of exploiting wretched people - people whose children are severely malnourished, even starving, people who live in shantytowns and have lost all hope of a better life, people who have ceased to even dream of another day. These men and women leave their plush offices in Manhattan or San Francisco or Chicago, streak across continents and oceans in luxurious jetliners, check into first0class hotels, and dine at the finest restaurants the country has to offer. Then they go searching for desperate people.
Today, we still have slave traders. They no longer find it necessary to march into the forests of Africa looking for prime specimens who will bring top dollar on the auction blocks in Charleston, Cartagena and Havana. They simply recruit desperate people and build a factory to produce the jackets, blue jeans, tennis shoes, automobile parts, computer components, and thousands of other items they can sell in the markets of their choosing, Or they may elect not even to own the factory themselves; instead, they hire a local businessman to do all their dirty work for them.
These men and women think of themselves as upright. They return to their homes with photographs of quaint sites and ancient ruins, to show to their children. They attend seminars where they apt each other on the back and exchange tidbits of advice about dealing with the eccentricities of customs in far-off lands. Their bosses hire lawyers who assure them that what they are doing is perfectly legal. They have a cadre of psychotherapists and other human resource experts at their disposal to convince them that they are helping those desperate people.
The old-fashioned slave trader told himself that he was dealing with a species that was not entirely human, and that he was offering them the opportunity to become Christianized. He also understood that slaves were fundamental to the survival of his own society, that they were the foundation of his economy. The modern slave trader assured herself (or himself) that the desperate pople are better off earning one dollar a day than no dollars at all, and that they are receiving the opportunity to become integrated into the larger world community. She also understands that these desperate people are fundamental to the survival of her company, that they are the foundation for her own lifestyle. She never stops to think about the larger implications of what she, her lifestyle, and the economic system behind them are doing to the world - or of how they may ultimately impact her children’s future.

—John Perkins, Confessions of and Economic Hit Man (via gottapaythetrolltoll)

What began as a psychological analysis of the operator of a death industry, ended unexpectedly in an international network of supporting legitimate enterprises run by upstanding conscientious people. The merchandising of terrorism is not accomplished by a few unsavory individuals. It requires a worldwide network of reputable, high-level members of society, who contribute to the deathly enterprise by insulating fractionation of the operations and displacement and diffusion of responsibility. One group manufactures the tools of destruction. Others amass the arsenals for legitimate sale. Others operate storage centers for them. Others procure export and import licenses to move the deathly wares among different countries. Others obtain spurious end-user certificates that get the weaponry to embargoed nations through circuitous routes. And still others ship the lethal wares. The cogs in this worldwide network include weapons manufacturers, former government officials with political ties, ex-diplomatic, military and intelligence officers who provide valuable diplomatic skills and contacts, weapons merchants and shippers operating legitimate businesses. By fragmenting and dispersing subfunctions of the enterprise, the various contributors see themselves as decent, legitimate practitioners of their trade rather than as parties to deathly operations.

Moral Disengagement in the Merchandising of Deathly Wares - http://www.american-buddha.com/psych.moraldisengagementbandura.htm

Pay to Play

It turns out that, if you want to know what the U.S. military is doing in Africa, it’s advantageous to be connected to a large engineering or construction firm looking for business.  Then you’re privy to quite a different type of insider assessment of the future of the U.S. presence there, one far more detailed than the modest official pronouncements that U.S. Africa Command offers to journalists.  Asked at a recent Pentagon press briefing if there were plans for a West African analog to Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier, the only “official” U.S. base on the continent, AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez was typically guarded.  Such a “forward-operating site” was just “one of the options” the command was mulling over, he said, before launching into the sort of fuzzy language typical of official answers.  “What we’re really looking at doing is putting contingency locating sites, which really have some just expeditionary infrastructure that can be expanded with tents,” was the way he put it.  He never once mentioned Niger, or airfield improvements, or the possibility of a semi-permanent “presence.”

Here, however, is the reality as we know it today.  Over the last several years, the U.S. has been building a constellation of drone bases across Africa, flying intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions out of not only Niger, but also Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the island nation of the Seychelles.  Meanwhile, an airbase in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, serves as the HOME of a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment, as well as of the Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing Airlift Support initiative.  According to military documents, that “initiative” supports “high-risk activities” carried out by elite forces from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara.  U.S. Army Africa documents obtained by TomDispatch also mention the deployment to Chad of an ISR liaison team.  And according to Sam Cooks, a liaison officer with the Defense Logistics Agency, the U.S. military has 29 agreements to use international airports in Africa as refueling centers. 


U.S. Facility near Gao, Mali.  This austere compound is thought to have been overrun by Islamist forces in 2012. CREDIT: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As part of the webinar for industry representatives, Wayne Uhl, chief of the International Engineering Center for the Europe District of the Army Corps of Engineers, shed light on shadowy U.S. operations in Mali before (and possibly after) the elected government there was overthrown in a 2012 coup led by a U.S.-trained officer.  Documents prepared by Uhl reveal that an American compound was constructed near Gao, a major city in the north of Mali.  Gao is the site of multiple Malian military bases and a “strategic” airport captured by Islamist militants in 2012 and retaken by French and Malian troops early last year. 

AFRICOM’s Benjamin Benson failed to respond to multiple requests for comment about the Gao compound, but Uhl offered additional details.  The project was completed before the 2012 uprising and “included a vehicle maintenance facility, a small admin building, toilet facilities with water tank, a diesel generator with a fuel storage tank, and a perimeter fence,” he told me in a written response to my questions. “I imagine the site was overrun during the coup and is no longer used by U.S. forces.”

America’s lone official base on the African continent, Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion post in Djibouti, has been on a decade-plus growth spurt and serves a key role for the U.S. mission.  “Camp Lemonnier is the only permanent footprint that we have on the continent and until such time as AFRICOM may establish a headquarters location in Africa, Camp Lemonnier will be the center of their activities here,” Greg Wilderman, the Military Construction Program Manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, explained.

“In 2013, we had a big jump in the amount of program projects,” he noted, specifically mentioning a large “task force” construction effort, an oblique reference to a $220 million Special Operations compound at the base that TomDispatch first reported on in 2013.

According to documents provided by Wilderman, five contracts worth more than $322 million (to be paid via MILCON funds) were awarded for Camp Lemonnier in late 2013.  These included deals for a $25.5 million fitness center and a $41 million Joint Headquarters Facility in addition to the Special Operations Compound.  This year, Wilderman noted, there are two contracts — valued at $35 million — already slated to be awarded, and Captain Rick Cook specifically mentioned deals for an armory and new barracks in 2014.

Cook’s presentation also indicated that a number of long-running construction projects at Camp Lemonnier were set to be completed this year, including roads, a “fuel farm,” an aircraft logistics apron, and “taxiway enhancements,” while construction of a new aircraft maintenance hangar, a telecommunications facility, and a “combat aircraft loading area” are slated to be finished in 2015.  “There’s a tremendous amount of work going on,” Cook said, noting that there were 22 current projects underway there, more than at any other Navy base anywhere in the world.

And this, it turns out, is only the beginning. 

“In the master plan,” Cook said, “there is close to three quarters of a billion dollars worth of construction projects that we still would like to do at Camp Lemonnier over the next 10 to 15 years.” That base, in turn, would be just one of a constellation of camps and compounds used by the U.S. in Africa. “Many of the places that we are trying to stand up or trying to get into are air missions.  A lot of ISR… is going on in different parts of the continent. Generally speaking, the Air Force is probably going to be ASSIGNED to do much of that,” he told the contractors.  “The Air Force is going to be doing a great deal of work on these bases… that are going to be built across the northern tier of Africa.”

Africom Goes to War on the Sly: U.S. Officials Talk Candidly (Just Not to Reporters) about Bases, Winning Hearts and Minds, and the “War” in Africa By Nick Turse


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Inverted Totalitarianism | The Nation


The war on Iraq has so monopolized public attention as to obscure the regime change taking place in the Homeland. We may have invaded Iraq to bring in democracy and bring down a totalitarian regime, but in the process our own system may be moving closer to the latter and further weakening the former. The change has been intimated by the sudden popularity of two political terms rarely applied earlier to the American political system. “Empire” and “superpower” both suggest that a new system of power, concentrated and expansive, has come into existence and supplanted the old terms. “Empire” and “superpower” accurately symbolize the projection of American power abroad, but for that reason they obscure the internal consequences. Consider how odd it would sound if we were to refer to “the Constitution of the American Empire” or “superpower democracy.” The reason they ring false is that “constitution” signifies limitations on power, while “democracy” commonly refers to the active involvement of citizens with their government and the responsiveness of government to its citizens. For their part, “empire” and “superpower” stand for the surpassing of limits and the dwarfing of the citizenry.

The increasing power of the state and the declining power of institutions intended to control it has been in the making for some time. The party system is a notorious example. The Republicans have emerged as a unique phenomenon in American history of a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority. As Republicans have become more ideologically intolerant, the Democrats have shrugged off the liberal label and their critical reform-minded constituencies to embrace centrism and footnote the end of ideology. In ceasing to be a genuine opposition party the Democrats have smoothed the road to power of a party more than eager to use it to promote empire abroad and corporate power at home. Bear in mind that a ruthless, ideologically driven party with a mass base was a crucial element in all of the twentieth-century regimes seeking total power.

Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups whose constituencies are the major corporations and wealthiest Americans. The courts, in turn, when they are not increasingly handmaidens of corporate power, are consistently deferential to the claims of national security. Elections have become heavily subsidized non-events that typically attract at best merely half of an electorate whose information about foreign and domestic politics is filtered through corporate-dominated media. Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media’s reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment. What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic.

No doubt these remarks will be dismissed by some as alarmist, but I want to go further and name the emergent political system “inverted totalitarianism.” By inverted I mean that while the current system and its operatives share with Nazism the aspiration toward unlimited power and aggressive expansionism, their methods and actions seem upside down. For example, in Weimar Germany, before the Nazis took power, the “streets” were dominated by totalitarian-oriented gangs of toughs, and whatever there was of democracy was confined to the government. In the United States, however, it is the streets where democracy is most alive—while the real danger lies with an increasingly unbridled government.

Or another example of the inversion: Under Nazi rule there was never any doubt about “big business” being subordinated to the political regime. In the United States, however, it has been apparent for decades that corporate power has become so predominant in the political establishment, particularly in the Republican Party, and so dominant in its influence over policy, as to suggest a role inversion the exact opposite of the Nazis’. At the same time, it is corporate power, as the representative of the dynamic of capitalism and of the ever-expanding power made available by the integration of science and technology with the structure of capitalism, that produces the totalizing drive that, under the Nazis, was supplied by ideological notions such as Lebensraum.

In rebuttal it will be said that there is no domestic equivalent to the Nazi regime of torture, concentration camps or other instruments of terror. But we should remember that for the most part, Nazi terror was not applied to the population generally; rather, the aim was to promote a certain type of shadowy fear—rumors of torture—that would aid in managing and manipulating the populace. Stated positively, the Nazis wanted a mobilized society eager to support endless warfare, expansion and sacrifice for the nation.

While the Nazi totalitarianism strove to give the masses a sense of collective power and strength, Kraft durch Freude (“Strength through joy”), inverted totalitarianism promotes a sense of weakness, of collective futility. While the Nazis wanted a continuously mobilized society that would not only support the regime without complaint and enthusiastically vote “yes” at the periodic plebiscites, inverted totalitarianism wants a politically demobilized society that hardly votes at all. Recall the President’s words immediately after the horrendous events of September 11: “Unite, consume and fly,” he told the anxious citizenry. Having assimilated terrorism to a “war,” he avoided doing what democratic leaders customarily do during wartime: mobilize the citizenry, warn it of impending sacrifices and exhort all citizens to join the “war effort.” Instead, inverted totalitarianism has its own means of promoting generalized fear; not only by sudden “alerts” and periodic announcements about recently discovered terrorist cells or the arrest of shadowy figures or the publicized heavy-handed treatment of aliens and the Devil’s Island that is Guantánamo Bay or the sudden fascination with interrogation methods that employ or border on torture, but by a pervasive atmosphere of fear abetted by a corporate economy of ruthless downsizing, withdrawal or reduction of pension and health benefits; a corporate political system that relentlessly threatens to privatize Social Security and the modest health benefits available, especially to the poor. With such instrumentalities for promoting uncertainty and dependence, it is almost overkill for inverted totalitarianism to employ a system of criminal justice that is punitive in the extreme, relishes the death penalty and is consistently biased against the powerless.

Thus the elements are in place: a weak legislative body, a legal system that is both compliant and repressive, a party system in which one party, whether in opposition or in the majority, is bent upon reconstituting the existing system so as to permanently favor a ruling class of the wealthy, the well-connected and the corporate, while leaving the poorer citizens with a sense of helplessness and political despair, and, at the same time, keeping the middle classes dangling between fear of unemployment and expectations of fantastic rewards once the new economy recovers. That scheme is abetted by a sycophantic and increasingly concentrated media; by the integration of universities with their corporate benefactors; by a propaganda machine institutionalized in well-funded think tanks and conservative foundations; by the increasingly closer cooperation between local police and national law enforcement agencies aimed at identifying terrorists, suspicious aliens and domestic dissidents.

What is at stake, then, is nothing less than the attempted transformation of a tolerably free society into a variant of the extreme regimes of the past century. In that context, the national elections of 2004 represent a crisis in its original meaning, a turning point. The question for citizens is: Which way?

An extreme case of rationalization was the extermination camps of Nazi Germany. The goal was to kill as many people as possible in the most efficient manner, and the result was the ultimate of dehumanization—the murder of millions of men, women and children. The men and women who ran the extermination camps were, in large part, ordinary human beings. They were not particularly evil people. Most went to church on Sundays; most had children, loved animals and life. William Shirer (1960) comments on business firms that collaborated in the building and running of the camps: “There had been, the records show, some lively competition among German businessmen to procure orders for building these death and disposal contraptions and for furnishing the lethal blue crystals. The firm of I. A. Topf and Sons of Erfurt, manufacturers of heating equipment, won out in its bid for the crematoria at Auschwitz. The story of its business enterprise was revealed in a voluminous correspondence found in the records of the camp. A letter from the firm dated February 12, 1943, gives the tenor: 

To The Central Construction Office of the S.S. and Police, Auschwitz: 
Subject: Crematoria 2 and 3 for the camp. 

We acknowledge receipt of your order for five triple furnaces, including two electric elevators for raising corpses and one emergency elevator. A practical installation for stoking coal was also ordered and one for transporting ashes” (Shirer, 1960: 971). 

The “lethal blue crystals” of Zyklon-B used in the gas chambers were supplied by two German firms which had acquired the patent from I. G. Farben (Shirer, 1960). Their product could do the most effective job for the least possible cost, so they got the contract. Shirer (1960) summarizes the organization of evil. “Before the postwar trials in Germany it had been generally believed that the mass killings were exclusively the work of a relatively few fanatical S.S. leaders.But the records of the courts leave no doubt of the complicity of a number of German businessmen, not only the Krupps and the directors of I.G. Farben chemical trust but smaller entrepreneurs who outwardly must have seemed to be the most prosaic and decent of men, pillars—like good businessmen everywhere—of their communities” (972-973). In sum, the extermination camps and their suppliers were models of bureaucratic efficiency using the most efficient means available at that time to accomplish the goals of the Nazi government. 

But German corporations went beyond supplying the government with the machinery of death, some actively participated in the killing process. “This should occasion neither surprise nor shock. I.G. Farben was one of the first great corporate conglomerates. Its executives merely carried the logic of corporate rationality to its ultimate conclusion…the perfect labor force for a corporation that seeks fully to minimize costs and maximize profits is slave labor in a death camp. Among the great German corporations who utilized slave labor were AEG (German General Electric), Wanderer-Autounion (Audi), Krupp, Rheinmetall Borsig, Siemens-Schuckert and Telefunken” (Rubenstein, 1975: 58).

I.G. Farben’s synthetic rubber (Buna) plants at Auschwitz are a good example of the relationship between corporate profits and Nazi goals. I.G. Farben’s investment in the plant at Auschwitz was considerable—over $1,000,000,000 in 1970s American dollars. The construction work required 170 contractors and subcontractors, housing had to be built for the corporate personnel, barracks for the workers. SS guards supplied by the state would administer punishment when rules were broken. The workers at the plants were treated as all other inmates in the camp. The only exception was one of diet, workers in the plants would receive an extra ration of “Buna soup” to maintain “a precisely calculated level of productivity” (Rubenstein, 1975: 58). Nor was any of this hidden from corporate executives; they were full participants in the horror. With an almost inexhaustible supply of workers, the corporation simply worked their slave laborers to death.


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