Russiagate, Corporate Propaganda, and the Historical Obstruction of Class Consciousness
Peace to you; if you’re willing to fight for it”
– Fred Hampton
The “founding fathers” deliberately arranged a system of governance that would protect the wealthy minority from the majority. Over time, as it fused with capitalism, this arrangement transformed the US government into a market. Railroad tycoons and robber barons forced their way into this market during the Gilded Age. Big business controlled the “public agenda” throughout the 20th century, with multinational firms taking root in the 1980s and 90s. Ronald Reagan ushered in the neoliberal era, which amounted to an all-out corporate coup of American politics. And, in 2010, the Supreme Court placed its stamp of approval on this system with its Citizens United decision, allowing anonymous donors unlimited access to politics through Political Action Committees (PACs).
In other words, the US government has been a traded commodity for a long time, in many ways since the beginning of the country’s founding. Wealth determines elections (over 90% of the time the campaign with the most money wins). Politicians are commodities that are bought by capitalists. Legislation is a commodity that is bought by lobbyists (employed by capitalists). This is the case for both parties and all politicians (because it is built into the system).
The point: If you still believe your 5th-grade textbook and think you have a say in determining public policy in the US, you are furious right now. Because you believe democracy exists and that it was hijacked by a foreign government. However, if you realize democracy (or a republic) does not exist, the Russia/Trump revelations mean only one thing: the traded commodity known as the US government has gone global, following all of the other capitalist markets that have been globalized over the past 40 years.
The bottom line: We, the working-class majority, have never had a say in our political system. Whether it’s the Koch brothers, George Soros, Goldman Sachs, the Israel Lobby, the Saudi royal family, some anonymous hedge fund manager on Wall St, or a dozen Russian oligarchs, “foreign” entities have always controlled our government. Our problems are wholly internal, created by our founders, intensified by capitalism and both capitalist parties, and solidified by Congress and the Supreme Court. Our everyday ills – poverty, debt, unemployment, underemployment, eroding safety nets, homelessness, inadequate housing, inadequate healthcare, inadequate education, debt-to-live scenarios, war, police brutality, campaign financing, corporate lobbying, corporate subsidies, etc.. – are homegrown. The systems that smother us in our everyday lives – capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy, patriarchy – are purely homemade.
The solution: The cries of Russia “interfering with our democracy” are both a distraction and a product of a system that intentionally obstructs critical thought. As working-class Americans, our enemies are the capitalist system, the dictatorship of capital, and the wealthy interests that dominate and control our lives, regardless of their supposed citizenship. This truth can only be realized through an embrace of class consciousness, something that has been stripped from us for the good part of the last century. Corporate “news” plays a crucial role in this process.
Today, when republican/conservative ignorance is met with informed, structural analysis, it is quickly deemed “fake news.” When democrat/liberal ignorance is met with informed, structural analysis, it is immediately met with screams of “Russian trolls.” Despite the cognitive dissonance that is sparked, ignorance usually prevails in both cases because Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC are incredibly skilled at packaging entertainment as information and analysis. The production value is top notch, and the range of “experts” who are trotted out every night gives the illusion that they are presenting “all sides” of the matter, leaving nothing to be questioned beyond agreeing or disagreeing with each side. In Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky broke it down like this:
“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.”
Our time, or lack thereof, is used against us. Capitalism smothers us from all angles by placing us on that proverbial hamster wheel, forcing us to run ourselves ragged in the pursuit of a paycheck. We live our lives one or two weeks at a time, spending half of our waking hours in a place we do not want to be, doing something we do not want to be doing, struggling to keep our lives and those of our families afloat, scraping by as best we can for that next piece of paper that allows us to eat. In this smothering environment, regurgitating corporate-propagandized talking points becomes the default mode because it takes much less time and effort than actually learning (reading a variety of sources, building historical context, discussing, engaging in the reciprocal process of praxis and theory, and deploying structural and systemic analysis).
Nuance is important, but class analysis is vital. With it, we understand that our problems are systemic, our immediate enemies are domestic, and our struggle against power cannot be sidetracked by a feud between global elites. In the end, our allegiance must lie with the oppressed of the world. And when our own oppressors begin to stir up a patriotic fervor, calling on us to pledge our loyalties to them, consider this advice from human rights activist Ajamu Baraka: “What does the working class have to do with a struggle between capitalists in the US and capitalists in Russia? That is not our fight. Our interests are not the same as their interests… Black, Brown, and white working-class and poor folks have nothing to do with the US capitalist elite.”
For all intents and purposes, Donald Trump is an enemy of the people. As is Vladimir Putin. As are the Clintons, the Bushs, Barack Obama, and any individual that fills the power structure which has smothered us since the country’s founding. Their allegiance is not to us; it is to global capital. It is to the system that was deliberately arranged by our founders with the purpose of protecting wealth and power from “the mob” (us). As such, our allegiance should be to the poor, oppressed, and working people of the world. Through its media channels, US/capitalist propaganda tells us otherwise, packaging its elite interests into some vague form of “national interest,” while tugging on our emotional strings with primetime spectacles. The power structure relies on these propagandized, emotional triggers to override any potential shift toward rational and critical thinking. This is why organic/working-class intellectualism is so desperately needed. It is the key to revolutionary change. And we all have it. But, for many, it is obstructed by layers of conditioning. It is the duty of radicals to chip away at these layers without accidentally fortifying them. A delicate task, indeed.
All power to the people.
Colin Jenkins is founder and editor of the Hampton Institute, a working-class think tank named after Fred Hampton.