Condemned to Repeat It: History as Rerun

Photo by Athena Iluz | CC BY 2.0

European essayist George Santayana famously wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is repeated, as it just has been,
ad nauseum as various persons (like yours truly) attempt to claim the mantle of wisdom. But the past is being deliberately repeated by those that do remember. By those that engineered the history we forget. Here are several ways in which history is repeating itself–on purpose–led by the capitalist deep state, their political servants, and the media monopolies that front its agenda to the general population.

Capitalism Prefers Fascism to Communism

People on social media red with ire rage about the double-standard applied to both the left anti-fascist protestors, the antifa anarchists, and the white supremacist marchers. Numberless voices rant about how the police protected the free speech of the white supremacists, but actively cracked down on anti-fascists. Now the government is moving to label antifa groups as domestic terrorists while doing nothing to apply the same tag to violent fascist racists. Some fairly argue that antifa are not the same as the majority of anti-fascist protesters. The former are violent, the latter peaceful. But the violence of antifa will be used to brand the entire progressive left with the stigma of domestic terrorism. The right will largely be left alone.

But this is nothing new. Capitalists and fascists have always had a symbiotic relationship. Before World War Two, historians blame insufficiently strident capitalist politicians like UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for “appeasing” the Nazis, as though they miscalculated the threat of fascism. What is forgotten is that they appeased the Nazis on purpose. Western capitalists rebuilt the German military and funded the rise of National Socialism after World War One. After all, the real threat to capitalism is communism, not fascism. As prolific and fearless author Michael Parenti writes, “fascism is nothing more than a final solution to the class struggle, the totalistic submergence and exploitation of democratic forces for the benefit and profit of higher financial circles.”

The capitalist West hoped that the Nazis would attack Russia and destroy the burgeoning communist revolution there. Fourteen nations from the west had attacked Russia in 1918-1920 in an attempt to foreclose communism, but they failed. The effort was revived with the Nazis as the military vanguard. Only when the Nazis attacked western capitalist interests, did the west intervene against Germany. After the war, many fascists that had served in military, intelligence, and civilian capacities were left in place. Operation Gladio was designed to leave NATO forces behind in liberated countries to ensure these countries, like Italy, Spain, and Greece, did not ‘go communist’ but subjected themselves to semi-fascist proto-democratic forms of social organization. Gladio generated a “strategy of tension” with campaigns of false flag terrorism designed to discredit the communists and drive the population into the arms of proto-fascist democratic forces.

We Were Weaned on Fake News

For more than a year we’ve been told we now live in a new era—an era of fake news. The claim has been trotted out again and again, in places high and low. It is largely used by neoliberals to defame Donald Trump. But fake news is what you grew up on. Woodrow Wilson’s Creel Commission brainwashed a somewhat pacifist population into drooling contempt for the “Hun”. Adolf Hitler and his NSDAP brethren spoke in glowing terms of the ability of western media concerns to condition the American mind. The CIA has long infiltrated western media. A journalist wrote a book about the compromise of European journalists. MI5 has been long said to be running journalists.

Here American media rooms generally need not be ‘infiltrated’, not that this hasn’t been relentlessly done (then buried). Yet the effect of decades of fake news promoting American exceptionalism and excessively demonizing all non-capitalists has produced several generations of robotic groupthinkers that have internalized the values of power. Rarely must such journalists even be instructed what to say; they already know what to say; they already know how to balance a story, how to under-report, how to deprioritize, how to frame, how to produce dead ends, how to terminate a train of thought, and how to remove responsibility from active agents using the passive tense. The techniques are myriad.

Modern newsrooms are full of such obsequious zombies. Former FCC Commissioner and Iowa law professor Nicholas Johnson noted four types of journalists. First, the young maverick who pens a thrillingly muckraking piece only to have it shelved by his or her prudent editor. Second, the cautiously optimistic journalist who runs the idea for a new exposé past his editor before thinking better of trying to write it. Third, the rather more skeptical journalist that kills the sensational investigation himself and doesn’t bother airing it with his superiors. Fourth, the perfectly assimilated journo to whom the truth-to-power story never even occurs. You might add a fifth kind, when the journalist becomes the editor himself and inaugurates the process all over again with some fledgling hire.

The story of what Parenti calls the “free-market holocaust” is never written about in the mainstream press. Only a few courageous souls, toiling alone and in obscurity, publish the truth. Given recent stirrings, we should reflect on the two million North Koreans, or twenty percent of its population, killed by the west during the Korean War. Three million in Vietnam. The million-plus in Iraq. The legions in Afghanistan. The half million in Syria. The tens of thousands in Libya. The half million Iraqi children killed by western sanctions. Add that to the millions of displaced and exiled refugees internal and external to their countries. Add to that thousands of drone kills. Then there is the current slaughter in Yemen conducted by Saudi Arabia, our Islamofascist ally, using weapons we sold them, intelligence we give them, and military strategies we devise for them. We mustn’t forget the Indonesian slaughter of East Timorese we greenlit and supported. Throw in Ronald Reagan’s hysterical blood work in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Thousands more in Chile, Haitia, Brazil, Zaire, Panama, Hondorus, Colombia, Laos, Cambodia, and many more unlucky locations. Some have estimated the U.S. is, directly and indirectly, responsible for 20 million deaths since the end of World War Two. Add to that the millions lost annually to lack of social services that communist nations provided but that are stripped away under neoliberal capitalist regimes. One will encounter the western propagandists’ dubious tabulation of the tens of millions in one-hundred-foot advertisements on the sides of buildings walking through Times Square, but never catch the slightest glimpse of U.S. war crimes adorning any of that pricey ad space.

Few ever hear of these considerations. But take a roll call of major propaganda campaigns foisted on the American populace by its own media: we were treated to the Red Scare before and during World War One, the McCarthyite drama after the Second World War, the post-Vietnam revivification of the Soviet phantoms by Ronald Reagan, a man deeply imprinted by the McCarthy era. And that’s just a shortlist. Now the Democrats have reanimated the corpse of the Russian scare thanks to NATO’s steady absorption of the former nations of the Warsaw Pact, Barack Obama’s relentless demonization of Moscow, and the Clinton clans’ cynical use of Russian hacking to deflect attention from their own corruption.

Now, thanks to the neoliberal ideology that insists everything be privatized including public utilities, we are subject to the ideological whimsy of Google and Facebook and YouTube as they tweak their manic algorithms to suppress anti-capitalist thought, otherwise known as free speech. They do this in the name of democracy and maintain their democratic base by promoting diversity on the surface, while they quietly use H-1B migrants to exclude competent American minority workers, sacrificing native diversity for profits.

Reforms Are Holding Actions

“I’m a free-market guy,” wrote Barack Obama in his pre-presidential The Audacity of Hope. Indeed he was. Obama liked to talk about how social change was always “incremental” and that we must be patient. Doubtless he was talking to the downtrodden peasants of capitalism, not the wealthy privileged sector of neoliberals who are doing fabulously by the present system. Or not. Rather than use his bully pulpit to press—no, to fight—for single payer insurance, he revised right-wing Romneycare and proferred it as his own personal Great Society contribution. To be clear, the largely unaffordable Affordable Care Act (ACA) above all produced a guaranteed revenue stream of taxpayer monies for the corporate profiteers that are literally the insurance problem itself. But the ACA was a futile dodge of the question of universal care; it will eventually unravel as the inexorable demands of shareholder capitalism overwhelm it.

But men like Obama never look back. They get in lockstep with the forward march of corporate profits for pampered few. But the general proposition sprinkled through our newspapers is that we are all of us on a march of progress, and that uplifting social events like the Civil Rights Movement and Feminism and such are markers on the path to an expanded human consciousness. All smart propaganda contains a germ of truth, and these indeed were heroic efforts that achieved considerable breakthroughs. But what is presented as clearing the ground for democracy is anything but, and never has been.

Capitalist investment prefers structural adjustment programs (SAPs) by the IMF that lend money to strapped economies on condition that they reduce social spending, which incidentally reduces revenues and slows the economy, at which point these bewildered, or perhaps comprador, governments are encouraged to sell off national patrimonies such as resources and utilities and industry to elite capital interests abroad. None of this increases domestic industrialization or self-sufficiency on any level. It creates nations of debt serfs completely dependent on the beneficence of western lending regimes, who can posture as liberal magnanimous cosmopolitans in front of capitalist media. Once said country is properly looted, the cameras click off, the globalists lose interest in the country, abandon it to unsustainable debt service, and move on to the next victim. This is not unlike the process by which lenders securitized toxic mortgages in exotic financial instruments and quickly sold them off to pension funds and other unwitting investment groups. Like passing a time bomb around the room.

What does modern research tell us? Thomas Piketty spent 700 pages telling us that capitalism increases inequality by design. He then proposes a few tepid transaction taxes on capital so he doesn’t get blackballed from academia. Reforms like these are simply holding actions by ruling class elites in order to stem growing discontent. Although one of the greatest eras in American history, the New Deal reforms of FDR were intended to save capitalism, as FDR himself admitted. They stemmed the tide of labor militancy. Immediately following their implementation, elite capital begin a war to roll back these social advances.

In the so-called developing world, slums boom and become a permanent feature of the urbanscape, genuine “poverty traps” rather than short-lived purgatories on the path of progress. Because of the lie that economic socialism didn’t work in the Soviet Union, we happily ignore the performance of socialist development models when they exceed the neoliberal “Washington consensus,” which, to be honest, is designed to fail for the majority. Naturally, in an imperial state, those who have success rallying people to this truth are quickly ostracized or, if necessary, liquidated. And so Martin Luther King, Jr. is slain just as he draws the connection between racism, poverty, and war. Likewise Malcolm X, Eugene Debs, and so on down the line of those who stepped out of line.

It’s Always Been Class War

The reality is, class war continues apace around the globe. The frightful sight of the working classes lifting their heads is a perpetual menace to the ruling class, and must be fought and put down by the henchmen of private capital, as it was in Paris after 1871, Vietnam in the Sixties and the al-Fateh Libyan Revolution in 1969, Nicaragua after 1979, and numerous other locales distant and near. Looking back shows that the present moment is but the echo of a forgotten past.

The destabilization, coming partition, and alienation of Syria is class war writ large. The socialist and secular Assad government is being brutally dismembered by western globalism, a ruling class construct aimed at the delegitimization of independent states, which elites understand are the last barricade behind which powerless populations defend themselves. Once sovereignty is diluted, a transnational superstructure of investor rights agreements will assume the character of a kind of global Hammurabi’s Code. Rights, resources, and wealth will accrue to the one percent investor class, a sampling of crumbs from the banquet table will fall to the globalized professional classes, which will gratefully support the elite cabal, and the remaining global majority, some seven billion people, will subsist in conditions of rapid decline. The Human Development Index will fall precipitously and the income gap between rich and poor will be supplanted by a mortality gap that will contrast the long, comfortable lives of the rich with the truncated lives of desperation endured by the “unpeople” of the world, to use a Noam Chomsky phrase. This end varies only slightly, as one moves from continent to continent.

What we are witnessing in Venezuela is also a class war. A phalanx of highly motivated, pro-violence, anti-democracy elitists, acting as a fifth column given their superb backing by Washington, are squared off against the country’s majority, a generally Chavista populace energized to reify the gains made under the Chavez government (and who hold four of five branches of government). But the minority opposition has the trump card of Western violence to call upon, if all else fails. Is it a coincidence that Syria and Venezuela and Libya were secular socialist independent states, two of which were actively organizing their continents to be self-sustaining without the debilitating conditionalities of IMF and World Bank loans? Without handing one’s economic power over to Washington? Without adopting the petro-dollar? Without inviting CentCom into your region like a Trojan Horse? It’s not a coincidence. It’s a strategy.

If we see relentless propaganda in our own era on the planet, why would we think the popular historical record from the 20th century any more reliable than it is now? Like Santayana, Karl Marx thought history repeated itself, although first as tragedy and then as farce. How true. There’s little more absurd than a populace of imperial subjects happily rehearsing the discredited platitudes of its monopoly media, thinking they are freedom’s flagbearers and an irresistible force for good in the world. Too often ignorance is bliss for Americans—and affliction for everyone else.

Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry and author of The Sins of Empire and Imperial Fictions, essay collections from between 2012-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at