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dirty truths

Dirty Truths

by Michael Parenti (City Lights Books, 1996)

Book Review

Nearly 17 years old, Michael Parenti’s 1996 Dirty Truths offers an analysis of the national security state that props up monopoly capitalism which is largely missing from scholarly “leftist” literature.

Parenti is one of the few theoretical Marxists to formally acknowledge the impeccable scholarship of Sylvia Meagher, Mark Lane, Carl Oglesby, Peter Dale Scott, and others in uncovering the role of the national security state in John Kennedy’s murder. Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, the Nation and other high profile mouthpieces for the American left are all highly critical of leftists who subscribe to so-called “conspiracy theory.” In addition to eye opening chapters on the JFK assassination and the apparent 1970 assassination of labor leader Walter Reuther, Dirty Truths also features an excellent chapter on the bloody US-supported coup Russian president Boris Yeltsin carried out in 1992.

 “Selective Fascism”

Most of Dirty Truths is dated and of mainly historical interest. In his introductory chapters, Parenti, a PhD historian whose anti-Vietnam activism ended his teaching career, offers a Marixian analysis of the structural origin of poverty, corporate media censorship, and American military empire that are now taken as a given by most liberal intellectuals. Yet already in 1996, Parenti writes at length about the fascist nature of the national security state and its role as an all-powerful shadow government. Like Chomsky and other media analysts, Parenti believes the modern state mainly uses propaganda and brainwashing to prevent the working class from agitating for social justice. However when ideological control fails, it freely indulges in a a “selective fascism” of unrestrained violence, particularly against minority communities.

According to Parenti, most Americans fail to recognize the fascist nature of the national security state because the corporate media sugarcoats the militaristic violence and brutality that has crept into community policing.

Yeltsin’s 1992 Coup

His chapter on Yeltsin’s 1992 coup casts a whole new light on the break-up of the Soviet Union. In 1992, the corporate media glorified Boris Yeltsin as a hero of democracy when he behaved exactly like the puppet dictators the US props up in the Middle East. After ordering Russian troops to shell the parliament building (while the Russian Parliament still in session) and killing upwards of 1,000 people, he officially disbanded both Parliament and the constitutional court, nullified the new Russian constitution, banned labor unions, jailed all the opposition leaders, abolished city and regional councils and outlawed fifteen political parties. He took these actions when a parliamentary majority voted down some of the “market reforms” Wall Street and the IMF were trying to impose on Russia.

Once Yeltsin had a free hand to end price controls and sell off the state-owned industries (to foreigners and Russian gangsters), the result was an economic disaster that transformed Russia into a 3rd world sweatshop for US investment. The rampant inflation turned the Russian people into instant paupers. This, along with the collapse of the health care system, led to mass starvation and epidemics of typhoid, TB that reduced Russian life expectancy by an average of twenty years.

The JFK Assassination and the Gangster State

Parenti’s discussion of the conspiracy to murder John Kennedy fits neatly into his analysis of the national security state as a large unaccountable state power with a primary purpose of protecting the ruling elite. Any individual or group who poses a serious threat to the corporate elite is automatically subject to neutralization in the form of illicit surveillance, sabotage, infiltration, false arrest, tax harassment, and violence and assassination. I suspect Parenti’s depth of knowledge relates in part to personal experiences as an anti-Vietnam War activist, which he describes at the end of the book. It’s also a matter of public record that the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies enlist the services of mobsters, drug traffickers, and assassins to target peasants, intellectuals, clergy, student and labor leaders and community activities who threaten US financial interests, both overseas and domestically.

Parenti devotes most of this chapter to Oswald’s role as a low level intelligence operative (and patsy) and the aggressive role corporate media has played in suppressing volumes of documentary and research evidence linking the assassination to the national security state.

He’s also highly critical of what he describes as a “conspiracy phobia” on the part of Chomsky, Cockburn, the Nation and other high-profile leftist and progressive publications. He includes excerpts of his lengthy correspondence with Chomsky, highlighting the illogic of the MIT linguist’s principle arguments against serious consideration of the assassination literature: 1) studying conspiracies (supposedly) “distracts” activists from focusing on the structural problems of capitalism, 2) the US government (supposedly) had no reason to assassinate the Kennedy brothers because they were both cold warriors and mainly acted in the interests of the ruling elite, and 3) focusing on assassinations (supposedly) leads activists to idealize the Kennedys and overlook their shortcomings.

Parenti also notes that Chomsky and Cockburn both condemn the meticulous and extensive work of Sylvia Meagher, Mark Lane, Carl Oglesby, Peter Dale Scott, and other scholars without ever reading any of it.

 Free from the Open Library

I borrowed Dirty Truths from the Open Library. Following registration, borrowers can download a PDF or Epub version of a large selection of books. All have a two week due date and vanish from your hard drive two weeks after you borrow them.