One of the most insidious things about capitalism is its ability to coopt ideas and individuals who pose a threat to the system. The Guevara was once the scourge of capitalist elites. His image is now an article of fashion. A few years ago, a new printing of the Communist Manifesto was being sold not for its revolutionary content but as a piece of art reflecting the socialist realism of the now collapsed Soviet Union.
Last month was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, followed this month by Black History month. As to be expected, capitalism has found it far more successful to embrace these moments rather than contest them. Through the former they can squeeze the essence out of those who organized and struggled against racism, economic injustice and imperialism. Dr. King has been reduced to a sterile icon that ignores the militantcy he found necessary to bring about change. He may well have had a dream when he spoke to the thousands of people jammed into the capitol mall. Oratory, however, was not Dr. King’s goal, but rather the political impact of thousands of people pouring into the nation’s capital demanding racial, social and economic justice. Militant direct action is not to be found in these official versions of Dr. King or the many other people who placed their lives on the line — and in many cases gave their lives — in the name of justice and equality.
Capitalism’s Orwellian reordering of the truth is not limited to revising the past. In a famous television advertisement kicking off a new sales campaign, the wearer of the shoe with the swoosh was represented as the liberator of downtrodden masses in some dark dystopia. Naturally, the ad failed to mention Nike’s part in exploiting young women in shoe factories throughout the developing world.
The same New Speak was abundant at a military procurement fair I attended last month at the Lloyd Center Double Tree Inn (see Page 1 for the story). This is a world where remote controlled drones armed with bombs and missiles become unmanned aircraft with payload delivery capability. Beyond the many euphemisms for items that are capable of taking human lives, the fair introduced a new lexicon for economic development intended to replace the old image of the military-industrial complex with a more positive, less militaristic one. In one of the workshops about becoming a military contractor neither speaker or PowerPoint presentation gave the audience anything to suggest that the goal of this work was to kill large numbers of people quickly and efficiently. Local television stations contributed to this by focusing their stories on a contractor offering new helmet lining that absorbed impacts better than the current equipment — we saw the contractor demonstrate by hitting himself on the head while wearing the helmet, but not a word about what those helmeted pilots would be doing.
As our elected officials work overtime to make our local economy more dependent on defense dollars — thanks Ron, Gordo and Darlene — this sort of War is Peace approach makes a great deal of sense to those in charge. After all, messages suggesting there is a man behind the curtain might put the wrong thoughts in the minds of those who are actually making our weapons of mass destruction. Better to give those people — who would have a hard time seeing themselves as evil — a way to avoid such thoughts.
Where does this leave progressives? Where it always does — being responsible for speaking truth to power. But as capitalism becomes more sophisticated, we too must make sure we are being effective in countering their lies. That means fewer concerns about parade permits and porta-potties and more focus on taking our message to where it is most needed — the communities in which the new merchants of death are quietly carrying out their work.
We must take our work to suburbs like Beaverton where a number of these contractors are busily supply the war effort. The work won’t be pleasant but I believe we’ll be surprised by the number of people in those communities who share at least some of our concerns and values around the issue of war. There are growing communities of South Asians, Latinos and others who do not support Bush’s escapade in Iraq. They could help a movement grow and help stop a war — if someone makes the effort to speak to them about what the government says it is doing in their community and what they really up to. Those two goals are well worth the risk of trying something new in these times of New Speak.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: March 2, 2006