Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bush and Blackwater: Is this the a new stage of "Repressive Tolerance"

by Norman Markowitz

The State Department has renewed Blackwater's contract to "protect" its diplomats in Baghdad. Why is this significant? It means that all of the U.S. and international press exposes have not had any meaning whatsoever. The House Investigation of Blackwater's activities did not have any meaning whatsoever. The denunciations of the Iraqi government (which believes that Iraqi civilians and, even worse, a bodyguard to the Iraqi Vice President, were killed by out of control Blackwater employees) have not had any meaning whatsoever (what a lesson for the Iraqis in "democracy").

The State Department says that it needs Blackwater because it is the only private contractor with the capacity to protect State Department officials in Baghdad. Why can't the U.S. military do it, as it has through U.S. history? The State Department doesn't say. Why are private armed forces operating throughout Iraq, sometimes as cross purposes with the military? Why is the State Department giving contracts to firms whose actions undermine its diplomatic activities and humiliate the government which it is trying to prop up? Nobody in the government is talking.

These questions can best be answered by following the money. Even the military is a public sector enterprise and the more its services can be outsourced and privatized, the better in terms of capitalist profit. If this makes the job of policing Iraq and controlling its oil harder, so what? This will only mean more troops and more contractors and more profits. You may call this vulger Marxism but this is a pretty vulger government representing the most reactionary, warlike, and pretty vulger sections of the capitialist class (I hope Texas oil men don't see that comment as elitist).

But these weren't the questions that came to my mind when I read this story. I immediately thought of the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist influenced German refugee whose writings became influential in some New Left circles in the 1960s Marcuse in books like One Dimensional Man developed the concept of repressive tolerance in capitalist countries like the U.S. By that he meant that anti-capitalist organizations and publications are not banned as such but marginalized and ghettoized – you can find them only if you look for them very hard. You can subscribe to them if you have the courage to but they are not on news stands and they won't be commented on in the media. Opponents of the establishment are not banned from participating in elections, but they get no air time. The society is organized top down to ignore them, to give them the right to speak and never listen to them and then proclaim that the fact that they can speak and write without going to jail is proof that we are living in an "open society" and a "free country."

But "repressive tolerance" in the U.S. was aimed at Communists, socialists, class conscious trade unionists and before the 1960s Civil Rights activists and environmentalists, even medical researchers publishing studies that showed the dangers of smoking. Mainstream media and elected politicians were its practitioners, not its targets.

What does it mean when the crimes of a Blackwater or a Halliburton are exposed over and over again and the federal executive does absolutely nothing, except to continue to reward the firms? Can we say that we have a "free press" because of the exposes? That we have a "two party democracy" because House Democrats led by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) gave the Blackwater CEO a going over and investigated his company's sorry activities?

The repressive tolerance that Marcuse analyzed was about marginalizing free and critical thought while pretending to defend free and critical thought. It was about taming and repressing dissidence. The Blackwater story is about marginalizing mainstream media as anything more than a propaganda organ, and simply not hearing anything from Congress that the executive doesn't want to hear. As such, it is about taming and repressive much of the center, ignoring the forms of what Marxists and Communists call bourgeois democracy, which, if it is "tolerated" over a long period of time, will take the form of a de facto and possibly de jure open dictatorship.

No comments: