Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Dynamics of False Consciousness: America Today

Class is integral to capitalism, the former its defining structure, the latter the directed purpose of a societal-historical process of wealth concentration whose intended purpose is systemic inequality. To legitimize this historical formation over time, given its inherent and myriad features of domination, requires persistent, sustaining, effective doses of false consciousness transmitted downward through the social order in the form of patriotism, diversions and distractions, and the invitation to identify with war (hegemony) and expansion (imperialism). This formula of Exceptionalism, the ideological cover for America’s special brand of capitalism, has worked in domestic and international politics through formal and informal social control at home and a pattern of aggressive, largely unilateral, combat, intervention, and confrontation in foreign affairs: the full blossoming of capitalist development as a counterrevolutionary force arresting trends toward and possibilities of global democratization, anathema to capitalism and America both.

I say “anathema” because what I am describing did not occur overnight, or even following the Second World War, at which point dramatic policy choices were coming into convergence, as in the squaring off of world ideological systems obstructing the universalization of capitalism led by America. Reaching the heights of power and influence in that war’s aftermath then defined a still higher stage, from coalition leadership (“the free world”) to exclusive hegemon calling the tune to actions to the US’s advantage and on its behalf. There is nothing solely deterministic in history, nor, for that matter, foreordained by a kindly, superseding deity; yet, consecutiveness both in policy and action, rooted in systemic requirements (from the maximization of profits and the creation of surplus capital as a means to further investment, to class dynamics which ensure the security of ruling groups and their potency in decision-making at all levels of government and also ensure, the twin to surplus capital, surplus labor, by means of under-consumption via low-wages doctrine and inequitable sharing of wealth distribution) and exploitation itself.

Nothing new about this, the capitalization of chattel slavery in America, with emancipation, a precursor to a fully elaborated system of wage labor now articulated, by slavery’s removal, as part of the uniform growth of specifically modern institutions of law and economics, property-centered, with slavery no longer a structural impediment: capitalism as a runaway locomotive on a single track. But even before plantation slavery had become a decisive factor in the US political economy, we see in the very formation of America the weakening if not abandonment of feudalism as a European relic unsuited for transplanting in the New World, thereby leaving capitalism a clear field unencumbered by political-social restraints to fill out the structural and ideological vacuum created by migration. Purist capitalism from take-off to, now, landing, so historically defined as even to subsume slavery, a premodern formation, ultimately within its capacious maw (yes, that of a voracious carnivore). There were no exceptions allowed, labor, from the start of industrialism, subjected to strikebreaking and state-sponsored violence, and in agriculture, serfdom of a peculiarly capitalist kind, with sharecropping and debt peonage, all in all then, the historical-structural foreclosure of ALTERNATIVES to capitalism, a behemoth which assumed total proportions in molding the culture and politics of society.

A capitalist polity has no need for internal dissent, if it wishes to preserve its monolithic class system. What I described above is represented not by an elite conspiracy, but the sum-total of countless decisions matter-of-factly taken whenever and wherever class prerogatives, decisions of war and peace, trends toward consolidation and monopolization, are opposed or resisted by working people, until finally the latter have become habituated/conditioned to acceptance of the going reality as the normalization of life and of order, a framework within which exclusion from power is compensated for by membership in the club, albeit on a subordinate basis, to engage in the exploitation of others still further down the Great Chain of Being, blacks at home, along with other designated out-groups, and overseas, whether through outsourcing, market-penetration, or war, intervention, or regime change, whole nations and populations, especially peasantries victimized by their own nations’ ruling groups. Thus, a never-ending exploitative sequence of power-relations founded on military strength and geopolitical considerations.

We come to today, the fruit of centuries of internal capitalist development, an unprecedented mal-distribution of wealth, a corresponding powerlessness of the mass citizenry, the intensified build-up of military power symbiotically linked to political-strategic goals of financial-industrial-commercial dominance inaugurating a stage of globalization stabilized it is hoped to perfection, as satisfying the dream of permanently freezing into place America’s culminating role in world history. An immodest projection? History itself stops at the American shoreline, all else to be the fulfillment of its destiny as the Empire of One. Perhaps think of where we are, beginning a new year, not of hope but of fear, a pervasive fear of terrorism (today, an armed camp in Times Square, and other major cities coast-to-coast), a fear whose source, we dimly realize, has been the actual record of US involvement worldwide, from Cold War conflict with respect to Russia and China and the internal subversion and overthrow of progressive governments and societies, on one hand, to, particularly, intervention in the Middle East on Israel’s behalf, then extending outward to Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Iran, all directions that Israel deems a threat to its own superiority and security. The Arab and Muslim nations, themselves saturated with US military bases, are expected to submit to such regional and global dictation, not realizing, on America’s part, that resentment follows intervention, a seedbed for terrorism which cannot be eradicated until and unless there is a fundamental change in American policy—and even then the whiff of blowback will remain in the air.

2016 will not usher in a year of peace and freedom. America is too committed, by bipartisan agreement, to a course of sustained aggrandizement, the threat of terror seemingly confirming the need for pressing forward, a domestic climate of narrowing social goals of concentration of wealth and power accompanied by hostility to dissent, a foreign-policy context of unyielding claims to moral virtue as imperialist underpinning and, its concrete expression, demands for military and trade partnerships (TPP, the latest example) directing the world’s wealth and resources to America’s coffers, and that of its “friends and allies.” On crucial matters, here, I hold foreign policy as determinant, there is no difference between the major parties, hence, the upcoming elections an overwhelmingly favorable plebiscite in favor of imperialism and, if need be, war. Trump and Clinton, choose your poison. An end to police racial violence, not when the shadow of ethnocentrism and xenophobia casts a centuries-old pall over the landscape of structural-ideological bigotry. Tax avoidance at the apex of American capitalism, not altered anytime soon. Spoliation of the environment, just ask Oklahoma residents this week about the fracking in their state—or the deeper contemptuous treatment of Nature through pushing to the earth’s polar extremities in search of wealth, the ravaging of rain forests, similarly, and the thousand-and-one developmental and extractive schemes with no regard to future generations. Not a happy note on which to extend new year’s greetings, except, between the lines, a plea to us all to RESIST.

More articles by:

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail