After the Cold War

Wednesday, March 18, 1992

Deterring Democracy
By Noam Chomsky
Verso, 1991. 421 pp. $49.95 (hb)
Reviewed by Phil Shannon

The Cold War is over. The Soviet Beast is slain. Now all the happy citizens of the New World Order can live in peace, freedom and democracy. This, says Noam Chomsky, is a fairytale.

The premise that the Cold War was a struggle between two superpowers (which the good side won) is faulty, he says. The US and the Soviet Union did confront each other, but this is "only a fraction of the truth".

For the Soviet Union, the Cold War primarily meant "tanks in East Berlin, Budapest and Prague". For the US, the Cold War meant "worldwide subversion, aggression and state terrorism" and, domestically, constructing a "welfare state for the rich". For both, the Cold War was the rationale for mobilising an exploited domestic population to divert their wrath to foreign villains.

This was always recognised by serious political planners, as Chomsky shows with copious examples from the secret and public planning record. US state planners regarded the Soviet Union as a problem because it was a large region not accessible to US corporations and because it possessed some military deterrent power to a US open season on any part of the world that sought political and economic development independent of the US.

However, the primary US concern was "indigenous nationalism" in the Third World —whether of the capitalist type, where profits went to local capitalists or the state instead of being repatriated to the US, or a more radical nationalism, in which some of the local wealth was intended for the needs of the worker and peasant masses. In either case, the US was faced with loss of economic control of countries "expected to provide raw materials, investment opportunities, markets and cheap labour" and to perform "other useful chores".

Thus, in US political demonology, "Communists" could be of impeccable bourgeois nationalist credentials or genuine socialist movements. As far as US corporate dividend returns were concerned, both types had the "wrong priorities", which were not conducive to "the protection of our resources" or facilitating a "climate conducive to private investment".

This operative principle applied, and applies, to the developed world as well, says Chomsky. After World War II, the US intervened in France, Italy, Germany and Greece

to smash the CP-led anti-fascist resistance and the "politicised labour movement" in order to restore the business class to power.


The US has had to be concerned with even the smallest outbreak of unrest, whether the perceived threat of Whitlam to US bases and uranium supply in 1975 or the revolution in Grenada with its "population of 100,000 and influence over the world nutmeg trade".

In the words of the corporate bosses and political managers, such a "virus" might affect others, the "rotten apple" might "contaminate" the rest, the "dominoes" might topple. In each case the menace must be taken out, under the guise of stopping tyrants and/or the "tentacles of Communism". In the Third World this has usually been done over "dead bodies piled up in mounds" (to borrow the words of Lou Reed).

Sometimes the "monsters" taken out are monsters (Hussein, Noriega) but this, says Chomsky, is "essentially beside the point: what counts is their accommodation to the needs of US corporations". This is why "favoured friends" like Hussein become "beasts to be destroyed" overnight if they show "the bad judgment of stepping on our toes". There comes a point when "our thugs and gangsters" become too independent and too grasping. Instead of "just robbing the poor and safeguarding the business climate", they interfere with US business interests. Then, and only then, do we hear of their atrocities, "cheerfully ignored in the past", but now "usable for propaganda".

The Iraqi people were just the latest of the "regular victims" of a global order dominated militarily by the US. The New World Order means "more of the same" as the old order, says Chomsky. Only the "tactics and propaganda" have changed.

The mainstream dispute has been tactical: between a "soft" approach — embargo and starve Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq — and the "hard" approach of military force. According to Chomsky, with the Soviet deterrent gone, the Strangeloves will feel "more free to exercise force on a global scale".

New propaganda

The dissolution of the Soviet Union has brought a need to adjust propaganda. "Defence against the Stalinist hordes no longer sells", but this "problem of the disappearing pretext" has been handled with ingenuity. "Lunatic Arab terrorists", "Hispanic narco-

traffickers" and new Middle East Hitlers have been

creatively manufactured and marketed as the new menace to justify US force and subversion. And so "democracy" in the "operative meaning of the term" — unchallenged rule by US business — continues to be enforced.

This is not a difficult thesis to understand nor to document, but capitalist politicians and their propaganda organs are oblivious to it for obvious reasons. Their "doctrinal truths" are "resistant to mere fact". This allows Chomsky to indulge in much angry yet entertaining polemical brawling with the herd of mainstream intellectuals and the Free Press, with lashings of his famous sarcasm.

Chomsky vigorously and expertly analyses capitalist power and exposes its lies. All the more disappointing, then, that the wheels come off when he turns to what he sees as the same evils of Marxism/Leninism/Bolshevism.

Capitalism and communism, he asserts, are both political systems in which society is run by a privileged elite in the interests of the elite, both systems suppressing "radical democratic tendencies among the common people".


For Chomsky, Stalinism "derives from the Bolshevik coup of October 1917", when Lenin and Trotsky "moved at once to dismantle organs of popular control", such as the soviets, in a cynical ploy to "exploit ... mass popular struggle" and seize state power for themselves. As Chomsky says elsewhere, however, "facts matter".

By October 1917, the Russian working class was hungry for revolution. The Bolshevik's historical merit was to organise, concentrate and politicise the spontaneous mass upsurge. Acceptance by the movement of the leadership they offered was signified by a quarter of a million workers being members of the Bolshevik party from an industrial proletariat of just 3 million in all Russia.

The Bolsheviks did "exploit ... mass popular struggle" — not out of cynical calculation but to lead it from revolt to revolution.

But the winter of 1917-18 also brought famine and economic dislocation from war, civil war and foreign intervention, which began the physical and political decline of the Russian working class. These historical facts must be considered in the decline of the soviets rather than ascribing it to the malignancy and authoritarian "will of the central authority" ("authority" serving as a general cuss word to an anarchist libertarian like Chomsky).

And when Chomsky calls on the "libertarian" Bakunin and his "spirit of freedom" against the "Red bureaucracy" of the Bolsheviks, historical fact is truly snookered by anarchist political theology. Bakunin (as well as being an outrageous anti-Semite) was a lifelong schemer, a conspirator with a band selected and headed by himself to take over or, if that was impossible, to destroy, organisations of potential or actual working-class power (as in the First International).

Nevertheless, this dispute with Chomsky is a comradely and mutually regenerative dispute on the left, with all disputants committed to genuine democracy, a world run by the "rascal multitude".

Deterring Democracy is invaluable. After reading Chomsky, you won't be able to read anything in the bosses' press without suffering severe intellectual and moral distress at the blood and lies of the New (and Old) World Order of capitalism.