Library:US Interventionism, the Third World, and the USSR

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"US Interventionalism, the Third World, and the USSR", also known as "Yellow Parenti", is the name of the video of a speech made by American political scientist Michael Parenti at the University of Colorado Boulder on 15 April 1986. The video in question can be found here. Note that 1) Parenti is paraphrasing most quotes; and 2) certain details may be incorrect, but the central thesis remains true.


Staffmember: Good evening. Michael Parenti this evening is giving a talk titled Reagan and the Russian—US Intervention in the Cold War. If I can, I'd like to only momentarily come back to—

Parenti: ...speaking of Capitalism, that it must expand. A no-growth Capitalism, as some of the more naïve—some of our more naïve ecologists have argued for, is a contradiction in terms. The reason you invest is to accumulate. And your accumulation of capital has no purpose or meaning unless you can mix it with labour to yet increase your wealth further. And, of course, you use large sums of it for personal consumption and for political power and for control of your culture and for that wonderful, good, happy life that you so like. As George Bush's wife said, "We are millionaires, but we are not ashamed of it. We enjoy our wealth."

And I thought, at last they say it. Finally, they say, instead of—instead of the usual thing, is, you know, how we rich suffer and—and we're misjudged and—and it's just terrible being rich—can't hear—okay, I wondered who that man was creeping up—okay, can you hear me better now? Is it alright?

Someone: Yes.

Parenti: Seems to be out of range, actually... this microphone has a mind of its own. Alright, now that nature of expansion really affects the nature of—I mean it's an important imperative, because it means Capitalism also can never stay home. It goes abroad. If you ever saw the film Controlling Interest, there's a corporate President who says "Those corporations that stayed regional in New England years ago and decided not to go national—we can't even remember their names. They died. We had to go national. And those of us who are now national know we have to go international. We have to invest abroad."

So, one of the laws of Capitalist motion and development is this inexorable expansion, and that means expansion into and expropriation of the Third World; a process that's been going on for about 400 years, perpetrated by the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the Belgians, the French, the English, and most recently, most successfully, most impressively, by the Americans—that is, the American—that is, by the ruling classes of these countries, not by the ordinary people. The ordinary people simply paid the costs of Empire. The ordinary people simply sent their sons off to die on the plains of India or the jungles of the Congo or in Latin America, wherever else.

But that expropriation of the Third World, has been going on for 400 years—brings us to another revelation—namely, that the Third World is not poor. You don't go to "poor countries" to make money. There are very few poor countries in this world. Most countries are rich! The Philippines are rich! Brazil is rich! Mexico is rich! Chile is rich! Only the people are poor. But there's billions to be made there, to be carved out, and to be taken. There's been billions for 400 years! The Capitalist European and North American powers have carved out and taken the timber, the flax, the hemp, the cocoa, the rum, the tin, the copper, the iron, the rubber, the bauxite, the slaves, and the cheap labour. They have taken out of these countries! These countries are not underdeveloped—they're overexploited!

One of the countries that had a great deal of Western capital in it was Tsarist Russia—mostly English, French, some German, some American; including one Herbert Hoover, who, with Leslie Urquhart, [a] famous British millionaire, owned the Russo-Asiatic Corporation, which—if the Russian Revolution hadn't happened, Herbert Hoover would've been one of the richest men in the world. And years later, when he was President of the United States in 1931—when one-third of this country was unemployed, when people didn't have enough to eat, when people were driven to the edge of desperation—President Herbert Hoover said to the San Francisco Examiner—he said, "My greatest ambition in life is to see the overthrow of Bolshevism in Russia."

There came with the Russian Revolution a break in the fabric of international Capitalist history. There now was a country where the unwashed, where the workers of Petrograd and Moscow were actually taking over—where they were actually taking over the land, the labour, the technology, and the resources of their country, where Communists were coming into power. And there's a remarkable correspondence between Secretary of State Lansing and President Woodrow Wilson in which Lansing says "The Bolsheviks are wanting in political virtue. They would preach to the ordinary man that he might elevate himself through political means rather than by dint of hard work. This would be a most unfortunate example to the common man in our country and other countries."

They understood what was the threat. The Americans themselves—the American ruling class had very little cap[i]t[al]—didn't have all that much. I tell you about Hoover and a few other speculators—other people like that—but they joined in with fourteen other nations to invade the Soviet Union[Note 1], to overthrow the Socialist government that had just been put in after the Tsar was overthrown. That process of invading a revolutionary country is still happening before our eyes. If you want to understand those years after the Russian Revolution, just look at what's going on in Nicaragua. Invasion, either by—directly with troops from your own country, or by using surrogate troops—and they used the White Armies and the White Generals—the White Guard Armies—embargoes, isolation, withholding food supplies, sabotage, encirclement, refusing diplomatic recognition—these are the—these are the methods that are used, and these are the methods—time-honoured methods—that are—that are being used right now by Reagan against another revolutionary government, which is Nicaragua.

That process—water has ice cubes in it that float right down your throat—that process of encirclement and destabilisation continued right until World War II. On the eve of World War II, foreign minister of the Soviet Union named Litvinov—Litvinov—Litvinov went to—did I pronounce the name correctly?

Someone: [Unintelligible]

Parenti: No, I'm not—can't say it that way... went to the Western Powers and called for an alliance with England, the United States, and France against Nazi Germany; and that if the Germans attacked Czechoslovakia, they would all join in—or attacked Poland or attacked anybody—that all the powers would join in at—to fight Hitler and contain him. The Western Allies refused those overtures from the Soviet Union, not because they were appeasers! Not because they were simple and naïve! Quite the contrary; because they had a plan of their own, and that plan was Munich! And the plan was "we give Hitler Czechoslovakia, and he goes East!" And they were waiting for war, and that war was supposed to come, and it was going to be Nazi Germany finishing off Bolshevik Russia! Just as they had sent armies in against Russia just a few years—less than a decade before[Note 2]—so they now planned to do the same, and so they've done again and again!

And that war was fought—fought, and most of it was fought on the Eastern Front. Seven out of every ten German soldiers who died in that war, died on the Eastern Front. The scale of fighting was enormous. The Battles of Kursk, Stalingrad, the Battle of Berlin—there's nothing like it that happened in the Western Theatre—in the Western Front. In the Battle of Berlin, you saw two million German soldiers against three-and-a-half million attacking Soviet soldiers. The losses were stupendous. But at the end of that war, the Soviet Union emerged as a major power—very weakened, very much weakened, having lost most of its industries west of the Ural, having lost 20 million people, most of its transportation, by the way, at that time, was still by horse or oxen, in most areas, for most of its population, but it still had the Red Army.

And yet it was not an Army that had any intention to marching through Europe, although that was a NATO myth that was cultivated at the time. And there's an interesting set of documents that just came out in The American Historical Review which point out now that the West and the State Department never really believed that the Soviets were going to invade Western Europe; that that was a myth which they consciously propagated. They knew that after an exhausting war, the last thing the Russian people would ever go for—or the last thing the Russian leaders themselves would ever go for—was another war. There was no sense—they had no interest in such a war. The war they fought against Germany was defencive and they wanted to rebuild their country. That was a myth that was consciously propagated, that if we don't stop them, if we don't do NATO, if we don't double, triple, quadruple our defence forces, the Russkies will be marching under the—under the Arc de Triomphe.

The point of all of what I've said so far is just to point out to you that the Cold War did not begin in 1947, but it began in 1917; that the Cold War has been going on even before the Russian Revolution in the sense that the U.S. has been consciously—and other Western countries have been consciously suppressing any kind of revolutionary forces. When Ronald Reagan says we've got to stop the Sandinistas and overthrow them because they are an extension of Soviet power, we might ask ourselves "We've been in Nicaragua eleven times, and, at least five of those times, there was no Soviet Union." We've invaded Costa Rica, we've invaded Haiti, we've invaded Mexico, and there wasn't a Soviet Union, we invaded these countries long before there was a Soviet Union. It's not that they're surrogates of the USSR, but that they are developing revolutionary movements which will bring a competing social order; one that will use the land, the labour, the resources, the technology, and capital in a different way—for social need, communally, for non-profit, public sector development rather than for private capital accumulation. This would mean the death of Capitalism, of that class with its power and privileges, with life as they love it, and, and, and, and, and hold it and will fight tooth and nail to defend it. As Mrs. Bush said, "We enjoy our wealth."

The U.S. Empire, at the end of World War II, replaced Britain. The Brits were eased out of Iran, British oil companies were replaced by American oil companies, British sugar companies in Honduras were eased out by American sugar companies, and America, also, picked up the tab. America build—a—bases. An American Empire—over two thousand bases around the world, including about 300 major ones. American fleets are in every ocean, American planes fly the skies over every continent... almost. And so we see enormous investment in the Third World, and with that enormous investment since World War II, an enormous growth in poverty.

Now that's unusual, and that really goes against the accepted ideology which is that "attract investments in here because that'll bring prosperity and jobs," all that sort of thing. But what investment has brought to Haiti is the immiseration of the small Haitian farmers. What investment has brought in Latin America and most other countries has been the displacement of the peasantry; their proletarianisation. They're being thrown into shantytowns to suffer poverty wages or chronic underemployment. What investment has brought with it also is increasing illiteracy, sickness, disease, poverty, and a dislocation and disfranchisement. A growing foreign debt, an indebtedness; growing investment for cash crops. By the way, that's what the whole Mexican Revolution was about. Was the land going to belong to the Mexicans so they could grow beans and alfalfa and feed their people, or was the land going to be—belong to the big sugar companies and latifundia owners so they could grow sugar to export as a cash crop to make more money—to get—make more money—more money... or coffee or whatever else...?

And with that growth—with that investment comes a dislocation in the structure of the Third World country, so that—so that the whole infrastructure of it be—gets built around capitalist extraction—capital extraction. The economist Ray Brown—when he went to Cuba, before the Revolution—it was in 1958, he was there, about a year or so before—was impressed by how every major road he saw went from a sugar plantation to a refinery to a seaport. While there were whole communities without roads. They couldn't get to doctors, they couldn't have schools, couldn't see a priest, the sugar companies had their roads.

And when you send foreign aid to those countries, nine out of ten of those dollars goes to build the infrastructure to subsidise the capital investment of the private corporations, or to pay for the police and the army of that country—not to defend it from foreign invasion, because Uruguay is not going to invade Bolivia, because Taiwan isn't going to be invaded by the Philippines, but they need those big armies to defend their rulers from their own people, because those people are in such a state of immiseration. So that's where our foreign aid goes, and as someone once said, "foreign aid is when the poor people (that's us) of a rich country give money to the rich people of a poor country."

And when Kenneth Boulding gets up and he says—an economist, and you can see what—you can see what—you can see, when you get Britain people like Kenneth Boulding speaking so naïvely, you can see the troubles you get into, the swamps you go into, the baby talk—silliness you get into when you think without Marx, when you think without class analysis—and Kenneth Boulding says, one of America's leading economists, he says, "Empire is irrational because it costs more than what we get out of it," "the British—it costed them more in India than what they got out of it," "the American investment in the Philippines is only about three-and-a-half billion dollars, but we had to give them about six billion dollars in aid," "it costs us more than what we get out of it," and that's when you think without a class analysis, because as we know—as you're going to know before the evening's over—that it's very profitable, because the people who have the three billion dollar investment aren't the same ones as the people who pay the six billion.

As Thorstein Veblen said back in 1909, and Boulding should've read him even if he is a Marxist, as Veblen said, "The wealth that's extracted from Imperialism goes into the coffers of the select few, whereas the cost of Empire are paid out of the common treasure of the people." And so it was with the British Empire in India. It was the Brits, the ordinary working people, who paid for the cost of Empire. It was the Bank of England and the East India Trading Company that got the cream. And so with the Philippines, right? Of course, with a good skim to—to your collaborator—your comprador there. What, what, I mean, what he got just in shoes... for his wife—God knows his shoes were his girlfriend's...

Okay, another resource in the Third World that attracts capital investment—and you say to yourself, "What is that mysterious resource?" I'm looking at El Salvador, right, and I'm looking at the companies that are in El Salvador. And I look and I see Pillsbury, Procter & Gamble, U.S. Steel, Continental, ITT, Firestone, Ford, and I'm saying to myself, "Wait a minute. What the hell's in El Salvador? A little sugar, bananas. What are all these companies doing there?" What they're doing is they're manufacturing everything from energy, rods, to baking powder. From auto tires to computers. They're in El Salvador because of a very precious resource in El Salvador, which is the cheap labour, which is paying people fifty cents an hour. Instead of having to pay auto workers fifteen dollars an hour up here, if you go down there, and you pay them fifteen cents or fifty cents an hour. That becomes a very attractive thing.

And you go to South Korea, [The] New York Times had a story about the South Korean farm girls, who work in the textile companies; companies that used to be in New England until they moved South, and then when the Southern workers union—unionised, they moved to South Korea, where there's a—there's a nice, Fascist, little country where, if the workers try to unionise, they get beaten up and thrown in gaol or they get shot dead. And the Korean farm girls in those textile compounds are working for eighteen cents an hour! Eighteen cents an hour for twelve hours a day, seven days a week, no time off, and if you want a day off, you work a double shift if you want to go see your family again on the farm. And they live in compounds. That's the Industrial Revolution—that's the 1870s, but that's big profit, and that's what they call "capital investment," "development," "friendly nation," "staunch ally," "good relations," "stabilisation," "stability."

And General Motors, when they tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that they've got to pave over Detroit and they've got to close down factories because "the cars aren't selling as well as they should," what they don't tell you is that in the last ten years, General Motors has opened up a dozen new factories in other countries for the reasons I've just talked about. So here's another resource. This, in fact, is the key resource; the resource which is the source of wealth along with natural resources—which is labour. Because one thing about labour—one of the—it's one of the commodities of production—it's the one commodity that does not use up its own value entirely in that process of production. It creates wealth.

Now, there's another development that's come with all of this, and that other development is that revolutionary movements have been emerging all around the world; these competing social orders. And so they must be targeted. Now, the United States has given a number of reasons for why Ronald Reagan has most—most—most vividly, recently—for why we must go on with a military buildup and an intervention in [the] Third World, why we must attack countries like Nicaragua, why we must oppose guerrilla movements in El Salvador, why we must try to overthrow Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and various other countries where the forces of social change are taking place.

And the reason they give is the freedom of the people there; for democracy. "We are in Central America to defend democracy." Well, a moment's reflection would raise some serious questions about that hypothesis, because it becomes clear that, in fact, the U.S. Government has a record in recent years of overthrowing democracy. In Chile, Salvador Allende elected in [a] free and open election, was overthrown, ten thousand people were executed, tens of thousands of others were driven into exile, others have—have been put in prison, and you have one of the worst fascist dictatorships, all with the support of the United States which, after Allende's election, cut off all aid except to the Chilean military.

In Guatemala, in 1954, Árbenz—the Árbenz government was instituted[Note 3], and Árbenz legalised all student organisations—students were very powerful—the first democratically-elected governor—President of Guatemala. Árbenz legalised trade unions, opposition newspapers, and then he started doing some very dangerous thing: He began to nationalise the onions land of United Fruit Company. And that's when U.S. corporations and the CIA went in and overthrew Árbenz. And that's a matter of public record, by the way. The CIA, the Eisenhower Administration admits that. Eisenhower probably boasted about the CIA—overthrew Árbenz because he was a serious Leftist influence.

And so with Mossadegh in Iran, so with Goulart in Brazil, so with Bosch in the Dominican Republic, so with a variety of other democratic leaders—at least six or seven in Latin America who were overthrown, and generals brought in with the aid and assistance of the U.S. Government. So it can't be that we're there to foster democracy; we seem to also make war against democracies. And, in addition, we support some of the worst dictators! If Reagan is really against tyranny, if he really hates tyranny, why doesn't he send freedom fighters into Paraguay, or Chile, or South Africa? Why doesn't he start sabotaging there, putting a squeeze on them?

In fact, the whole fight with Libya might be less of a mystery if you understand that, really, the worse thing about Colonel Qaddafi, who is a kind of a strange guy in some ways—but not as strange as the media has made him out. He has called, you know, and you don't know this, most of you who laughed—he has called repeatedly for negotiations between him and Reagan, for peaceful negotiations, for—for peaceful settlement of all disputes, and the Reagan Administration has repeatedly rebuffed those overtures. That isn't put in the press—I'm not blaming you for not knowing it. You're not going to read it in that rag that I saw out there, that Colorado thing that said "Terrorist Targets Hit in Libya."

He has done that, and he has done some other things which make him really dangerous. It's not the terrorism, it's not the attack on—on the Vienna and Berlin airports, for which they have no proof that Libya was involved, and which they have proof that the terrorists came out of Syria. The troubles and thing about Qaddafi is that when he took over in 1969, he took over a country that was like Saudi Arabia; a country of mass misery, a lot of rich oil that went into the pockets of a few rich, and when [t]his Colonel's revolution took over, they got rid of the rich. They took all their extra houses and gave them to the poor.

They put out a land reform programme, they put out a public free school programme, they started a national health... medical programme—something that we Americans still don't have—The Libyans have it! He planted 40 million trees, and started massive irrigation and ecological reclamation—these are some of the things Qaddafi did! And that's a dangerous example to the Arab World. He took—he took a bigger chunk of the oil revenues and reinvested them into the needs of his own people, and the—and the per capita earnings of the Libyan people are the highest in the Arab World, the highest in the Third World; you didn't hear that in the media, did you? You didn't hear that on Dan Rather's tonight? That's what's dangerous about Qaddafi.

And the queue comes—and you know the queue—when Reagan says "Qaddafi is a tyrant over his own people," like the Sandinistas are tyrants over their people, like Allende was a tyrant over the Chilean people. The minute they start social reform, the minute they start tampering with our oil, our bananas, our sugar, our copper, our iron, our bauxite—why, they're tyrants!

The second myth that's given to us is that these revolutionary governments are hostile to us, and that's why we oppose them. Right-wing dictatorships get along with us; they're friendly to us. Why is that, though? What is it about right-wing dictatorships that make them so friendly? What are they being so friendly about? What is the community of interest that they have? I already explained it, I believe: It's a common class interest. And the left-wing guys come in, but they're hostile to us. Well, that doesn't really seem to be true though. The first thing these left-wing governments do when they come into power is ask for friendly diplomatic and economic relations with the US.

Certainly, that's what the Sandinistas did. They honoured the debt that, that, that, that swindler Somoza ran up, and they—and they asked for closer economic relations. That's what the Cubans want. Every socialist country, from a huge power like the Soviet Union, to a small power like Vietnam or Cuba, to a mini-micro-power like Grenada under the New Jewel Movement—every single one of them asked for more trade; normal political, economic, and diplomatic relations with the United States. Not necessarily out of love, but because they saw it in their self-interest, because their interest was to develop their own economies, and to have peace and security on their borders, to invest less in military defence. There was even an article on that in The New York Times in which Fidel Castro makes that point—we want to spend less on our military defence.

It doesn't make sense to the Cubans. Why must they go 16,000 miles away to Japan to buy school buses? That's where the Cubans get them[1]. They go 16,000 miles away when they could buy them right from Florida, 90 miles away. Why must they get their medical supplies from China[2][3] and Czechoslovakia when they could get them from the U.S.? Cuba has the largest import tonnage costs of any country in the world because of the U.S. blockade—boycott.

So it's very much in their interests to cultivate friendlier relations. There's a subset of things there much firmer than love. No one's claiming they love us. And love, after all, you know, is a volatile emotion. It comes and goes. Much firmer than love is self-interest, and therefore the basis of some kind of normal relations with those countries. No, my friends, it's really the Reagan Administration that runs with terror whenever there's the first sign of friendliness from this socialist or revolutionary country. Reagan, as Tom Wicker said, in regards to the Soviet Union, for instance, in armaments, "Reagan will not take yes for an answer."

The final reason given is that we must contain the red tide. You heard that March speech by Ronald Reagan—vintage stuff—where he talks about a red tide lapping our border if we allowed Nicaragua to sustain the kind of government that its people have chosen in free and open elections. If we allow that, our own security is at risk. And you can see that superpower, 60,000-man army of the Sandinistas cutting a swath up through Guatemala, Mexico, Texas, right up here into the Heartland, right into Boulder, Colorado, dancing with your daughter! And your sister! Do we want that? I hear they're good dancers.

The image of that—the image of that tiny nation of three million being a threat to us, you know, reminds me of the Vietnam War. We used to hear that same stuff, we said "If we don't fight them in the jungles of Vietnam, we'll have to be fighting them on the shores of California," and Walter Lippmann said "the image of the Vietnamese getting into their little PT boats and coming across the Pacific and taking California is an insult to the U.S. Navy[Note 4][4]."

It's very hard to convince the American people that they should send their sons and maybe, who knows, someday, even their daughters to go fight and die in some jungle to make the world safe for United Fruit Company or Chase Manhattan or Procter & Gamble or ITT. So you say it's to stop the threat of that Communist country. It's very hard to convince the American people that a tiny country like Nicaragua or Vietnam or El Salvador is a threat to U.S. security, so you say "It's not Nicaragua. They're the puppets of the Cubans, who are the puppets of bum-bum-bum-bum... the big, red bear in the Kremlin. And yet again, as I just said, these countries continually want friendly overtures including—including the Sov[iet]——continually want friendly relations including the Soviet Union.

What we hear also is that there's another pernicious element and the thing we have to stop in these countries is—is a thing called Communism, and that there are Communists in these countries. It's time, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, it's time we ask "What's a Communist? What does a Communist do that is so dangerous?" They would have us believe that Communists merely hunger for power, rather than wanting the power to end hunger. They would have us believe—well, The New York Times, let me—let me—let me refer to an editorial where they described the undesirable and offensive "Managua regime."

By the way, these countries don't have "governments." They have "regimes." You'll see that in newspapers all the time. We have government. And I said to myself, "What is undesirable and offensive about Managua? Is it the land reform programme, where they took all that massive land owned by those few rich compradors and—and gave it out to the people who were starved for land? Is it the farm co-ops that they're setting up? Is it the community industries and the public work programmes that create jobs for people who've been chronically unemployed? Is it the food programme, a ration of beans and rice for every kid in Nicaragua so that nobody, no matter how poor that country is, they're all getting fed? Is it having the lowest infant mortality rate in Central America, despite earthquake and civil war and foreign invasion and attack and embargo? Lower even than Costa Rica, which is supposed to be the big showplace?"

What's so offensive about Managua? It is those things in some degree; it is creating a competing social order! It is people—it is those who have been downtrodded—it has been those who have been used as fodder in the capital accumulation process now claiming back the process of production, claiming back their own land, claiming back their own slag, their own dignity, and saying "This country is going to be for us and not for you anymore, gringo!"

And that's the Communist programme, and that's what Communists are! I had somebody up in Vermont say—she got up and—she was one of those trust-funders who works on peace a lot—and she said—oh sorry there—she said, "People who saying that the Salvadoran guerrillas are Communists, but they're not Communists! They're just ordinary peasants, so why are we fighting them?" the implication being that if they were Communists, it would be okay to go in and pulverise them. And I pointed out that, "Well, look, at least in the FLMN[Note 5]—the front is, at least, two of those five groups—at least two. I don't... I'm not sure about all it—but at least two of them that would not deny the label 'Communist.' They would say 'Yo soy Comunista[Note 6]', you know?" They'd say it. And they would say it proudly. And what does it mean to be a Communist—it means to fight and devote yourself to the people.

If Communists, if we Leftists, if we Marxists, if we revolutionaries, if we progressives, if we—all we want is to hunger for power, then why do we side with the powerless? Then why don't we toady up to power? Why don't we take the road of the Henry Kissingers and the Patrick—Daniel Patrick Moynihans and the Zbigniew Brzezinskis and the Eugene V. Rostows and the McGeorge Bundys, who toady up and mouth for power? When Henry Kissinger was made National Security Advisor for Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller gave him fifty-thousand bucks as a going-away present[5].

As Nelson Rockefeller testified himself before the Senate Committee when he was being appointed Vice President of the United States, and they asked—and the Senators—well, they really went at Rockefeller really hard—they said "Why did you do that, Mr. Rockefeller?" And Rockefeller said "Well, giving's always been a tradition in our family[Note 7][6][7]." Giving! They cast their bread upon the waters and more and more came back, didn't it? He was saying to Henry Kissinger, "Henry, I brought you out of Harvard, I brought you out of that offensive [unintelligible] or whatever that was, Strategic Studies, because I like the books you were writing and you were writing them for me. Henry, you remember, you're going to go work for Tricky Dick[Note 8], but you remember who you belong to!"

And that's what—that's what hungering for power is. It's climbing, like the political climbers and careerists have done in every country in the world! And we on the Left don't do that! We stand out in the rain! We stand out on the picket line! We put our jobs on—on the line! We risk our careers! In many cases, we even risk our physical safety and our lives in all sorts of countries! If it's power we want, why do we take such a circuitous route? If it's power [unintelligible] wants, why is he standing back there? In 70 years, standing... like a legion.

Well, these Communists do do all these reform things, yes, and the liberal columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post says—and I—and I think I've heard it about 800 times from different people—"We ought to copy what the Communists do. Why are we always on the wrong side? Why do we go into these countries and find ourselves on the side of the big landowners, the sweatshop owners, the—the big, corrupt generals who run little prostitution rackets on the side and all of that stuff—then—why are we with that element? Why aren't we—why don't we capture the hearts and the minds of the people the way the Communists do? Why don't we copy their techniques? What are their techniques?"

Well, Communist techniques are very well-known: Just the things we just said. They go into the village, they do land reform, they try to bring clean drinking water, they pay for the food they take, they try to help the people organise themselves—that's what they do. But if we did those things, we'd not only would have stolen their programme, we would've been—become them, because that's what they were doing! That's the thing we're fighting to prevent... not we, that's what our government and our ruling class is fighting to prevent. That's why we always go in on the wrong side; because the wrong side is the right side for the class interests of this Administration, and just—and every other Administration that's occupied the White House. So it is the heart of U.S. policy, ladies and gentlemen, to use fascism to preserve capitalism, while claiming to be saving democracy from communism.

Now, the Soviet Union is a serious problem for world capitalism. First, it's the strongest socialist country. As the strongest socialist country, it is a major target. Second, it has assisted other revolutionary movements, mostly just diplomatically, politically, morally; but also sometimes with material aid. Not much, but rather substantial aid in the case of Vietnam. So, one goal is to try to contain the Soviet Union. The dream is finally to rollback the events of 1917, to undo history, to bring back that time when all the world belonged to us, and there were no problems like this. And there became an encirclement of the Soviet Union. The most targeted socialist country in the world today is not Nicaragua, nor even Libya if you want to call Libya 'socialist'. I wouldn't quite call it that. It's got an erratic leader, he does immature things and says immature things, but he's also dangerous from a class interest, but I still wouldn't call him 'socialist.'

The most—the most encircled and threatened country is the USSR. It is the one that is targeted with all these missiles. There is, ladies and gentlemen—those missiles are not the result of an arms race. I maintain that there is no arms race and there never has been. A—a race—as you know, the model of a race is the two proponents moving. Each, more furiously, ahead of the other, trying to make as much—put as much space to get to the tonne of gold. That model doesn't explain arms escalation. What we have had, rather, has been an arms chase, with one side—the US—unilaterally escalating each time, and the other side—the Soviet Union—playing catch up, often with a two-to-seven year lag in the particular weapon system.

That was true of the A-bomb, the hydrogen bomb, the long-range bomber, submarine-launched missiles, the MIRVs, the multiple warheads, the ICBMs, tactical nuclear weapons,solid-fuel rockets, and now, even today with the MX, the cruise, the Pershing, and the neutron bomb, the—the race model doesn't explain it. It's a chase. As the Soviets said just several years ago, "Don't build a neutron bomb. If you build it, then we will have to build it." "Don't build the MX. If you do that, we will escalate on our ICBMs." That's hardly a race. That's more of a chase. The other side, asking that this escalation not take place, and then when the escalation does, it reluctantly moves on, and—and—and... and enters it also.

Reluctantly I say it because the arms race has had a tremendous damaging effect on the Soviet economy. Every time they have to build another tank, that's one less subway car for their subways. In the USSR, any city that reaches a million people gets a new subway built in it[8]. Every new missile means that much less quality consumer goods. It's also, by the way, has the same drain on our country, but it—it's not as evident given the kind of country it is. There's a[n] arms race here, the defence spending is, of course, an enormous shot in the arm to the owning class in terms of profits, guaranteed cost overruns, fat contracts, and so forth.

The Soviet Union has a capital shortage, unlike the U.S., which has a capital surplus. And so, therefore, there's deprivation. The Soviet Union has a labour shortage, unlike the U.S. where there are 20 million underemployed. It has a smaller industrial base so, to match us, that's a greater dream—on it. It has scientists who would prefer working in the civilian sector because their work in the military sector remains anonymous. Managers who would have management jobs in the civilian sector—in short, it has a number of rational reasons why it would like to diminish the arms race. As Gorbachev has said again and again, "We have a lot of building in our own country. We have never had a normal year in our history; we have had foreign invasion, revolution, invasion again, forced collectivisation, etc., et cetera—armaments race, and we would like to have some normal years."

Again, not necessarily love, but something much stronger, which is self-interest. So I would argue that Soviet escalations have been mostly reactive and defencive to U.S. escalations. This is true also if you look at the Soviet Navy. It has—until very recently—no aircraft carriers for attack and amphibian actions. It now has one. It's had a few mini-carriers. The Soviet fleet is almost built—almost entirely to tracking the U.S. fleet... see where it's going.

Soviet interest in disarmament is reflected in the proposals that they have made. You could say, "Well, words are cheap! I want to see actions." First of all, words aren't cheap. Words count too. What a nation says is reflective of what it's doing. But actual moves have also been taken. For instance, 1) the Soviets proposed the eventual disbanding of NATO and Warsaw Pact armies, a proposal—gradual, mutual de-escalation. Step-by-step on each side, one two, one to that, down like that—the U.S. turned down that proposal—would not even study it.

The Soviets proposed a—in the last for years—nuclear free Europe—reducing their medium-range SS-20s and all those to match the 162 which France and Great Britain had. That was a proposal made three years ago—that was a proposal which Gorbachev has brought forth again. It's one which Reagan has ignored simply, to-quote, "for zero sum," and without the two-stip—reasonable stipulations which Moscow has asked for, namely that "If we get rid of all our missiles both sides, we also guarantee that you don't have to transfer any of your existing missiles in Europe to the French or British, and the French and British begin to get rid of their missiles, or, at least, at this stage, they freeze them." And in fact, the French and British now are increasing their number of intermediate-range missiles.

And remember, intermediate-range missiles in the West—cruise and Pershing missiles in Western Europe are not intermediate range. They can reach Soviet soil, so they are strategic. They can hit Soviet ICBMs. Soviet SS-20s are nasty weapons indeed, but they cannot reach the United States. They cannot knock out any MXs or ICBMs. They are not first-strike potentials. Another thing to remember: cruise and Pershing missiles that are now in Europe have a seven-minute strike time. That's the end of deterrence, and this is why Gorbachev and the Russians are besides themselves about the cruise and Pershing.

This is why they walked out of Geneva in 1983—because Reagan refused to negotiate on the cruise and Pershing. This allows Reagan to turn around and say, "We went to Geneva but they walked out" as he's going to do now with this latest cancellation. So what you do is you shove a person away, you act hostile toward them, they get up and they say, "Well, you obviously don't want to negotiate", they'll walk out, and then you turn to your people, you say "You see? They don't want to reach an agreement."

If it takes me a half hour to get my missiles over and kill you, and you a half hour to kill me, then in that half hour, after I let mine go, you know they're coming, and you let yours go at me! That is a deterrence to me! However, if I can reduce the striking time to seven minutes, and your—and they're so low and fast, and your radar can only pick them up in the last two minutes, I now have a first strike capacity on you! You no longer have deterrence! I no longer can fear your missiles, because my missiles are targeting yours! And I'll knock out all your missiles, and then I'll have a second strike capacity to hit you! You'll have a feeble, retaliatory strike. Your feeble, retaliatory strike, however, will be blocked out by my Star Wars!

Is that what Star Wars is all about? Yes. You see, the criticisms about Star Wars are largely irrelevant in that area. People have said—scientists have said it's a ridiculous project. It's going to have to work the first time and work perfectly. Only if the Soviets launch their 10,000 missiles at us in the fit of peeve one day, they say "Let's destroy the world," and they send the missiles at us—only then will Star Wars have to work perfectly. But if the function of Star Wars is to be a shield against a feeble, retaliatory strike of the Soviets after a first strike by the U.S., then Star Wars becomes much more effective, and Ronald Reagan himself let the cat out of the bag last year when he said "It doesn't have to work perfectly," and the speaks' and all—they got—got him away from the platform and all that.

Because they explained it to him just that morning at breakfast, and it is—that if I can only—if I can only block out 90% of 10,000 missiles, I'll be destroyed by a thousand missiles. But if all the Russkies have left are 60 or 70 missiles, and I can block out 90% of those, then only 7 or 8 will hit us. And that is called "acceptable collateral damage." How do you like that, for 1984—20 million—anywhere from the estimate from 4 to 20 million—acceptable collateral damage. "But we would've won one for the Gipper[Note 9], eh?"

There are nuts in the Pentagon who think like this, ladies and gentlemen! They get big, fat military pensions too, and they get big—big—big, fat salaries, and they got big boards all lit up—they think like that all the time. But short of starting a nuclear war, the grand design is to have a first strike capacity that so puts the Soviets under the gun, again, that we'll—we'll be back to 1947, when we could brandish that weapon around, and they would have to retreat. They would have to concede. They would have to pull back in fear. We'd be back to 1962—the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Kennedy sat there and thought of a strike against the Soviet Union[9], and they realised that Khrushchev really had only one, possibly two ICBMs that could reach the U.S., and it could only reach the Northeastern corner of the U.S., but they real[ised]—estimated that this might cause a million, two million casualties, and that would be politically unacceptable. And so, they discarded any idea of a nuclear strike against the Soviets.

That one missile might have saved our lives, so it's not true that the missiles just build up blindly on both sides, they're caught in this irrational race, that is just something in—in man's nature, for war. I'd loved those songs but there's something about the politics in one of them that didn't ring right with me, that it's just people caught up in this meanness and killing for killing and the—and why—when are we going to reach our senses? That's not true—that's not the way it works. It's not something that comes in here. If it was something in our nature, why would they have to draft us? Why would they have to use press gangs, and—and drag us in?

The Nazi leader Hermann Göring said "Nobody—no poor Slav wants a war, not even a German! Not even a German! What, does he want to sit in a stinking trench with the smell of blood, listening to the screams of his buddies, lying there, quivering with cold and terror? What he wants—where does he want be? He wants to be in his home! He wants to be on his farm! He wants to be with his family! No poor Slav wants a war. You got to drag them out and dress them up and beat the drums and wave the flags!"

Within the last four years, the Soviets called for the banning of weapons in outer space before the United Nations, a resolution that was voted 124-1. Who was the 1? Not the US— Ronald Reagan! Wasn't the—it wasn't the American people, right? It was—it was that coterie that is misrepresenting us. All the opinion polls show that the American people didn't want weapons into outer space, at least back in those days before the Star Wars promo. 200—124-1 with one abstention. Do you know who the abstention was?

Someone: Israel?

Parenti: No, no, it wasn't Israel[Note 10]. It was—it was Margaret Thatcher who, as well all know, is Ronald Reagan in drag. The Soviets have signed a no first use pledge[10], a pledge that we will not be the first to ever use nuclear weapons, and the only reason they signed that is because they cannot imagine anytime when it would be in their interest, ever, to be the first—first to use nuclear weapons. They haven't ruled out the possible use of them, and they keep building, too. That no first use pledge—the US has refused to sign it—well, so what? That's—means less hypocrisy, because when push comes to shove and the missiles are going to fly, they're going to fly, right? No. What nations say is an indication of their interests and their strategies to some degree. Sometimes, there's lies and deception.

The US cannot sign a no first use pledge because no first use—because—because they have threatened—every administration has threatened the use of nuclear weapons. It's part of US foreign policy. That's what Star Wars—that's what first strike—that's what cruise and Pershings are—it's to gain dominance again over the Socialist countries, over the Third World, by having nuclear superiority.

The US threatened first use and thought of using nuclear weapons at Khe Sanh during the Korean War—Eisenhower did[Note 11]. Nixon thought of using nuclear weapons at—what's the—what was that battle—during the Tet Offensive, but—but—was that Khe Sanh? I'm getting my words mixed up—I mean in Khe Sanh in Vietnam, and then—and then I—I forget what the other battle—that reservoir battle in Korea was—was Eisenhower—the Eisenhower Administration not only thought—deliberated using them, but actually decided to at Điện Biên Phủ, and said "Yes," and offered nuclear weapons to the French, and said "Do you want to use some of these tactical nuclear weapons at Điện Biên Phủ," and the French refused. They took the defeat instead.

So—so they—we're ready, quite ready, to use them, then. In any number of occasions, by the way, the use of nuclear weapons—the Kennedy Administration and the Cuban Missile Crisis—seriously considered the use of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, as I mentioned before. So it is a part of policy—it is one of the weapons that—to be used to maintain imperial hegemony, to keep history from happening, to keep people under the gun.

So, if they signed a no first pledge, they could no longer threaten using the weapons! It would show them to be hypocrites and liars; they sign the pledge and here they are threatening to use the weapon. And if they signed the pledge and threatened to use the weapon, this would undercut the credibility of the use of the weapon! Or if they—if they signed the no first pledge, this would undercut the credibility of the threat of nuclear weapon, and the value of those weapons is a threat, and, by the way, it may not be that the US is ready to destroy the USSR—their ultimate plan is really to get such a superiority—with Star Wars, cruise, Pershing, and all that—of forward attack planes and submarines and everything else—that they will just be able to dictate terms as I was saying, and first use pledge would certainly not fit into that scheme of things at all.

Therefore, the policies are not really totally symmetrical between Moscow and Washington. The Soviet Union—this is one of the best-kept secrets in the United States—the Supreme Soviet in February of 1981 voted unanimously to endorse a mutual bilateral verifiable nuclear freeze that was virtually identical to the ones which were passed in those twenty Vermont townships and voted in nine states and endorsed in hundreds of towns and cities in America, and its wording was almost word-for-word the same pledged. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that same month voted unanimously to endorse a nuclear freeze.

The US, has, in fact, ignored any proposal for nuclear freeze despite a massive movement involving millions of people in this country—probably the biggest mass movement in such a short time in our history was the Nuclear Freeze movement. I—you don't reali[se]—you know, some of you are too young to realise what history you're making, you know? You don't realise, but—but it's incredible! It dwarfed in its numbers—it dwarfed the anti-war movement, at least for the first five years. It dwarfed the Civil Rights movement—it dwarfed the union movements and struggles in the 1930s, and the sheer numbers of people who signed up, who marched to demonstrate and wrote letters, who pledged for nuclear freeze—it was a mass movement, and the Reagan Administration simply ignored the whole thing. Didn't exist, wouldn't hear of it, wouldn't consider it. It didn't fit into their very rational plans of a different kind of world.

The Soviet Union has called for the reduction of ICBMs; Reagan Administration refused to negotiate it—or—totally ignored that offer in 1982 and ignored it again when more dramatically, Gorbachev came up and said "Let's not negotiate it, but let me give you numbers. A 50% cut, both of us, right off the top, let's start." With total on-site inspection—another—by the way, another change in the Soviet policy—total, complete on-site inspection under any conditions you want, come on in, look anywhere you want about this sort of thing, and the US again won't take yes for an answer—Ronald Reagan won't...

The Soviet Union had a unilateral and observed—and is still observing unilateral moratorium on anti-satellite weapon testing. The Soviet Union called for, last year, cuts in conventional forces—again, NATO and Warsaw. The Soviet Union unilaterally—unilaterally put a—observed a moratorium on, on, at, on, on underground nuclear testing, and has called for a total ban on all nuclear testing because Gorbachev knows that if you stop nuclear testing, that's the end of the development of nuclear weapons. You can't develop nuclear weapons if you can't test anymore, and Reagan knows that also, and so he's ignored the proposal. The Soviets unilaterally—last year as you know—said "we will not test for the rest of this year."

And the Reagan Administration said, "Oh, that's because they do all their testing early in the year, and they've got them all done already, but we still have a few tests." Okay! Okay, maybe that's it! So do all your tests, catch up, and when it comes December 31st, you say to them "we [are] going to observe it too!" Didn't do that. January 1st came, and Gorbachev said "We will extend that moratorium several more months," and the U.S. said, "Oh, they extended it because they don't test in the cold months (January, February, March)—they don't test then. Although they supposedly do all their testing in the early part of the year. I don't understand that one.

And then when they—when they extended the moratorium yet a bit further, the—the argument was "This is a propaganda ploy. They're trying to appeal to the American people. And we, in order to reach the ultimate point of getting rid of nuclear weapons, we'll have to continue testing right now" in what was a masterful—a masterful faith of Doublethink. I mean, that was an actual quote. I wish I had it—I, I couldn't find it in my materials on the plane.

What I'm arguing here, ladies and gentlemen, is that U.S. foreign policy is not foolish—it's not stupid—it's quite rational. When someone says, "What are we doing? We—we're opposing guerrillas in El Salvador and we're supporting guerrillas in Nicaragua." That's quite rational, because the guerrillas in El Salvador want to change the social order, and the so-called guerrillas—they're not guerrillas; they don't live with the people and build their base in the country—the mercenaries and Contras who are—are attacking Nicaragua want to bring back the old order. That's a very rational system. They're not foolish. They're not confused. They know what they're doing! It is to defend the class order; to make the world safe for hypocrisy.

Star Wars, besides being that defence—that—that—that first strike shield, people say, "It's too expensive." What are you talking about "it's too expensive?!" That's one of its attractions! It's going to cost a trillion dollars! It'll cost more than the entire New Deal W.P.A. Programme, and the Manhattan Project which gave us the atomic bomb, and the Eisenhower Highway Project—put all them together, and the building of the railroads—put all of them together, they won't cost as much as Star Wars! A trillion is for the first stage, they think—the first stage.

That's what the boys like—who have these defence contracts. That's what they—that's what they love! They see dollar bills! Getting there is all the fun, whether it—this—the system works or doesn't work, the expensiveness is the major attraction. It will violate the ABM Treaty, and now we see even—it violate[d] the Atmospheric Testing Treaty. What's wrong with that? Reagan has no loyalty to the ABM or Atmospheric Testing. He's been wanting to violate them since he's been in office.

Now, having said all this, and giving you this picture, I would like to add something else: That the ruling class rules, but it doesn't rule quite in the way it wants to; that, in fact, we must not be overwhelmed by these facts or this analysis, but we must be enlightened. We could understand why they do these things. Ronald Reagan is not stupid. He gets it confused; he goes to—he goes to Ecuador and says "It's wonderful being here in Colombia," you know. I mean, he—he does things like that and he muffles on questions.

Reagan, though, has been the most successful and rational and persistent president that I have ever seen in office in every single area, whether it's NLRB or busting unions or cutting human services or his people—environment—he is—or, or, or defence spending or foreign policy—he has advanced or the appointment of reactionary judges. He has every single area—defunding the left, whatever. He has not looked left to stone and turned. He has advanced and pushed persistently, he has a cohesive goal and programme—it's the goal of Cap Weinberger and Pat Buchanan.

It's the goal of the radical right, and he has been successful at it, but not completely, because, at the same time, in the years that Reagan has been in office, the protest has grown. Democratic forces have grown. Changes continue throughout the world. Peace forces in the Soviet Union—by the way, there are massive peace forces—millions of people march—Leningrad Peace Committee—there are photos of people marching with these banners... "No missiles East or West." And again, you should make a distinction between a country which supports and encourages a massive peace movement, and a—and a government like ours which derides it, red-baits it, ignores it, or puts it down. A nuclear freeze movement... democratic forces have grown in power since Vietnam.

Do you realise that Ronald Reagan has not invaded Nicaragua? I mean, do you realise, as I said before, that the United States has invaded Nicaragua eleven times, and has actually occupied Nicaragua three times, including for periods of as much as ten or thirteen years, and the Marines went in there and burnt huts and killed people and raped and murdered and dismembered people? Colman McCarthy just had a column in The Washington Post of a 78-year-old guy who said "I was in there when we were fighting Sandino back in 1928, and when I got out, as a young kid, I had nightmares for years after. I shot innocent people. We saw guys getting their genitals cut off and tortured—the Marines did that!"

Do you realise that? Do you realise, today, the United States has a striking power, a deployment power, a force, a delivery power that's a thousand times more powerful than anything Calvin Coolidge had, and you got a president that's a thousand times nuttier than Calvin Coolidge, who would like to go in there—who wants to go in—who wants to go in, and yet he hasn't? But what held him back? It's the democratic forces. It's the same thing that kept Nixon from using nuclear weapons in Vietnam, as it—as the story came out when the Pentagon Papers were released... or... not the Pentagon Papers... the White House tapes, where they were afraid of what this—the—this disruption and the reaction of the people in their own country!

If the democratic forces in this country, if the democratic forces around the world, if the Nicaraguan people who are armed and ready—you could go in and carpet bomb it with B-52s, not lose a single man... and just devastate it, destroy it. But then you'll have to go in with troops. Like that lying in Antigone, you know. You would make of it a graveyard and call it "peace," but those troops would still find survivors, and they would have to fight them, and it would be unacceptable losses, and Americans would die in Nicaragua, and the war might escalate, and all of the Latin America[n] people might rise up. Why do you think those Latin American leaders, those corrupt, rich, comprador, collaborationist leaders say to Ronald Reagan "We don't want to in Nicaragua! We oppose that policy! We support the comprador programme!"

Are they suddenly going left on us? No, they're worried about the reaction of their own people! The losses in Nicaragua would be unacceptable, but unacceptable to whom? Not to Ronald Reagan! He wouldn't mind losing two, three, four thousand American boys if he can take Nicaragua. That's no loss to him! He's got plenty of fodder! He's got it right in this room! He'd have you down there! He had two hundred and sixty-one marines blown away in Lebanon in one day, and he wanted to go back in with more and fight more! Those were "acceptable losses" to him! That was no skin off his nose! It's his class interests he's worrying about! He kept talking about the emergence of a Lebanese left and Lebanese socialism... and we must stop it! It was unacceptable losses politically, it—it means that there are political forces that can fight back, that is too costly to him. Not morally!

So, we may be stronger than we think. And we must never believe what they try to make us believe about ourselves; that we're weak, that we don't have it, you see. Let me just close with one last, little story, okay, because I've been going too long.

I was a—I lived in Washington. I—I was living in Washington about six years, and I was asked by some Filipino exiles in 1981, I think it was—or '82—to go speak at Lafayette Park at the White—the White House is right across the street in Lafayette Park. I always tell friends, "I speak at the White House a lot. You know, the big megaphone when I—I speak at the White House." They said, "Do you speak at the White House?" "Yes, I speak at the White House—what—these microphones."

And so there I was, speaking, you know, and these Filipinos were so appreciative. It was so moving to me. "Oh, Michael Parenti, would you speak?" And—and so I give the speech and I talk about the Philippines—what—some of what I said to you. "The Philippines are not a poor country, only the people are poor; it's rich, and they should deserve—their own heritage, blah, blah, blah." And I said this whole thing and on—and here's this little band—about 200 people—about half-Filipino, half-American.

And, you know—I look at this, and then I look across at the White House. You know what I see? I see about 600 police—helmets with their guns—guns, rockets, fists, everything—cars, all this stuff—all over there. And I see limousines—a fleet of limousines—comes up. It's Marcos! President Marcos coming up to the White House porch—you can't see the actual porch, it's blocked off; but you can see the limousines go up there—to get hugged and kissed by Ronnie Reagan, because he's a great defender of democracy, this Marcos. And I see this—and I see all this display of power, and I see these Filipino heavies—the securities—they come around.

They looking—they're looking at the Filipinos, like, checking them out, if they recognise anybody on it—and I'm standing there with our little—a brave, little band of 200 people with our signs and we were walking around chanting—and I do what a lot of people do in this situation: I start to bleed inside, and I start to say, "My God, look at that power, look at that wealth, look at the force." And we got this little band of people, you know?

And then after I gave my talk, I wandered over to—we had a fence up, and we had a display of pictures of Filipinos who have been tortured and found dead—grizzly photos—by the—Marcos' people. And—and a—and a Marcos security guy, a Filipino thug, plain clothes, comes walking up, and he looks at the pictures, standing next to me, and he goes—and he smirks, like a—you know. And I never had such a feeling. I wanted to really, you know, give him one upside his head, but I've outgrown those days.

And I'm saying, "Look at this. They've got it all. What are they going to do?" And look what's happened three years later—just look what's happened—this incredible transition—democratic forces mobilised, and this Marcos just blown away. Just remember who has this source of power. When the people get it together, they have a strength like nothing seen. And the democratic forces move, the forces of reaction must retreat. And these great generals and dictators and presidentes who sit there in their big palaces with their boodle and their corruption and their bayonets and their guns and their spies everywhere—they get thrown off just as a stallion would thrown off a little fly. So we speak truth to power, just remember that.

Speak truth to power, mobilise, organise, never be sad, remember what the great Italian communist Antonio Gramsci said: "You have a pessimism of the mind, but an optimism of the will." You see the worst, you consider the worst, you work against it, but in here, you work for what is freedom, for what is justice, for what is right. It is our destiny, it is our future. The future itself depends upon it. Thank you.

Staffmember: If you wish to ask Professor Parenti some questions, please come to the microphone. There are two microphones out here on the floor and he'll be happy to take questions.

Parenti: Let me remind you, there is a demonstration starting about now right out on the terrace after this is over.

Someone: What about Libya?

Parenti: I thought I talked about Libya already—gave you my analysis. Do you mean the recent events—all the terror attacks? I—I don't know what the question was.

Someone: On the drug—Reagan—really, that part. Do you think that's a whole lot of the business of our power structure or did you—did you [unintelligible] or is he really thinking that there's some kind of [unintelligible]?

Parenti: I—I—I've always thought the man was very bright. I—I exchanged with him when he was a Chubb fellow at Yale and I had gone back as a visiting fellow, and I asked him a couple questions. He had the—he knew what it was about and he answered them—when he was Governor of California, this was. I have never thought of Ronald Reagan as—as dumb. He's not that quick anymore, and he has a tough task, but he's a consummate liar and fabricator, he can take any point—any question and turn it into a polemical point, he has—he has real political instincts. He's a real political animal, the way Jimmy Carter wasn't.

For instance, when the astronauts—when the Shuttle blows up, he comes on, he makes a speech, and he turns that disaster into a price paid for glory—"This sacrifice cannot be in vain, we must go on, and we will get to the truth—in our system, things are in the open." He then reports—he—he appoints William Rogers, who's in—who's in bed with the state industry to—to—to start this commission investigation and do a miserable, little job, almost—almost to cover up, except—except people kept leaking things for the press, so the commission had to go then and ask these questions.

And that's an example of it. I—I think he's—he's—he's very—he's a very effective spokesman for his class, and very effective leader for his class. If you don't think so, tell me why not. The biggest thing he's done is—is dim[inish]—is cut inflation, as I said on radio earlier today, and inflation is the Great Terror of most Americans. How do you maintain yourself, how do you save a little, how do you get ahead, how do I survive in my old age? And once you cut inflation, people feel a hell of a lot better. At the price of employment, at the price of the poor, but the poor are a minority, and they'll suffer more, but everybody else was voting their pocketbook.

In this country, when survival is so tough and so competitive, people voted their pocketbook. Even—many of those who opposed him on most issues, they voted for him because they saw his alternative as being ineffective and being a big spender. Reagan has been the biggest spender since—of anybody in the White House. He's increased the debt by $1.800,000,000,000—it's really more—I'm sorry—he's doubled the debt. It's al[most]—triple—it'll be triple by the time he gets out.

He's the worst deficit spender in the world, but—but people are getting a little ahead of themselves, and when he said to them in 1984, he said "Are you better off now then you were in '80?" One, it's true, in '81, Jimmy Carter was President, and he had a 12½—13% inflation, and that terrorises people who don't want to spend their old age in a furnished room, who want to think they're going to be able to have a standard of living that's—that's somewhat decent. I mean, the system plays on the very insec[urity]—it takes advantage of the very insecurity that it creates.

As this stuff about "he's a magic leader" and "he's all this personality, Teflon and all that," that's not true. In 1982, when unemployment was increasing and inflation was high, nobody wanted his endorsement in the '82 congressional elections, his name was mud. It was only when the economy got a little better, and it got better because he got lucky with oil prices, got all these cheeky imports from the Third World, and he's cut the buying power of the working class and deflated prices in that way, I guess, I mean, nobody knows too much about—we don't—we—we keep conju[ring]—conjecturing about what caused the inflation and what doesn't and so forth.

But in any case, that, I think is the answer to Reagan's magical appeal. If this economy takes a plunge, you'll see—you'll—you'll see people, you know, reacting in a different way. The economy comes first because that's the first condition of life and survival. Issues like the deficit or El Salvador are secondary, although there are surprisingly large constituencies around those issues.

Someone: I—I want you to talk about why Communism in the Soviet Union are [unintelligible] question [unintelligible] East German citizens are—cannot travel outside East Germany [unintelligible] and East Germany cannot [unintelligible] ally [unintelligible] East Germans have a common country [unintelligible] in anyway [unintelligible]?

Parenti: Well, during World War II, most of the destruction by Allied bombing was in East Germany, so after the war, East Germany was vastly more impoverished than West Germany, one.

Two, it was Prussia. It had a large nati[onal]—Nazi cons[tituency]—cont[ingency]—contingency or sympathy. A lot of those people wanted to come West.

Three, the Russians at that time—Soviets made a mistake of taking machinery and stuff out. They—they—they actually began to extract capital from East Germany, which they only did for a short while—they [unintelligible], turn them around, they—and they've since then been putting in or giving East Germans more favourable trade relations.

Four, the U.S. pumped in billions of dollars in the Marshall Plan to West Germany. There was a boom in West Germany—production and such. So many people wanted to leave East Germany for West Germany—for the goodies—for the jobs. And there was a vast number who left—the East Germans stopped it for the same reason that about a hundred other countries would like to stop it—drain brain—brain drain. They just lose—you bleed—the country begins to hemorrhage.

The other thing that happens with any kind of migration is once a substantial peop[le]—a number of people go, that itself becomes the momentum. Others are attracted—friends, family, relatives. Once they come, they have friends and family or kin or spouses, and they too want to come, and so this is why they stopped it—because they want to develop their own—their own country. Whether that's justified or not is another whole question. I'm giving you the reason why the Berlin Wall was built.

By the way, there were some—is about—there's—there are few hundreds—New York Review of Book[s] had a new article some years ago—there are few hundreds every year who go back from West Germany to East Germany, and they were interviewed, and some of them said, "Well, in West Germany, I had a bigger apartment and I had this and that and the other thing, but that was it. I had nothing to live for. Everything was—I was isolated. I just had my career and me, me, me! I didn't feel part of a community. In the GDR, I feel like I'm working for part of the community." By the way, now in the GDR, the level of prosperity is very high. It's probably the most prosperous socialist country. Maybe more so than Hungary, too.

If there are no more questions—there i[s]—is this light—is [b]right? Is the filming—is the filming still going on, or—oh, okay, this light is blinding me... blinding me.

Someone: What I want is a better understanding of, say, your vision of a better America. How useful would it be to Communists to look at the Soviet Union today? In other words, how exact of a model is the Soviet Union for America?

Parenti: Well, the Soviet Union couldn't be an exact model for us. It has a whole different tradition, history. It's had a very unluxurious history. It's had a very difficult, terrible, horrendous history, so we couldn't use it as a model. We have a different level of prosperity. What I would say is this: You could look at any existing socialist country—if you don't want to call them socialist, call them whatever you want. Post-capitalist, whatever, I don't—I don't care. Call it—call them camels or window shades. Doesn't matter, as long as you know the countries we're talking about—you can look at any one of those countries, and you can evaluate them in several ways.

One, comparing them to what they had before. And that, to me, is what's very compelling. That's what's so compelling to Cuba, for instance. When I was in Cuba—I was up in the Escambray, which is like the Appalachia of Cuba. Very rugged mountain. Poor people—very poor, they were. And I said to this campesino[Note 12], I said, "Do you like Fidel?" And he says, "Sí, sí, with all our soul." He just we[nt]—I remember his gesture. "With all our soul."

I said, "Why?" And he pointed to this clinic right up there on the hill, which he—we had visited. He said, "Look at that." He said, "Before the Revolution, we never saw a doctor. If someone was seriously ill, it would take twenty people to carry that person, because you'd go day and night—it would take two days to get to the hospital. First, because it was far away, and second, because you couldn't go straight. You couldn't cross the latifundio land or the boss would kill you, so you had to go like this, and often, when we got to the hospital, the person might be dead by the time we got there. Now we have this clinic up here with a full-time doctor. And today, a doctor in Cuba—when you become a doctor, you got to spend two years out in the country. That's your dedication to the people. And a dentist who comes one day a week, and for more serious things, we're not more than 20 minutes away from a larger hospital." That's in the Escambray. He said, "That's freedom. We're freer today; we have more life."

And I talk to a guy in Havana, who says to me, "Before, all I used to see here in Havana—you call this 'drab' and 'dull'—we see it as a cleaner city. It's true—you got the paint that's peeling off the wall; but you don't see kids begging in the street anymore, and you don't see prostitutes. All we used to have was prostitutes." Prostitution used to be one of the biggest industries, and today, this man is going to night school. He said, "I can read! I can read!" Do you know what it means to be able to read? Do you know what it means to be able not to read?

I remember when I gave my book to my father. I dedicated a book of mine—Power and the Powerless—to my father. It said "To my father with my love[11]." Gave him a copy of the book. He opened it up, looked at that. He [had] only gone to the 7th Grade; he was a son of an immigrant, working class Italian. And he gets misty eyes—very misty eyes, and I thought it was because he was so touched that his son had—had dedicated a book to him. That wasn't the reason. He looked up at me and says, "I can't read this, kid." I said, "That's okay, Dad! Neither can the students! I mean—that's not something—I mean, don't—don't worry about that! I wrote it for you. I mean, it's your book and you don't have to read it, you know? It's a very complicated book. An academic book." He said "I can't read this book."

And he just—and the defeat—the defeat that that man felt... that's what illiteracy's about! That's what the joy of literacy programmes is, that's why, in Nicaragua, you got people walking proud now, for the first time. They were animals before! They weren't allowed to read! They weren't taught to read!

So you compare a country to what it came from, with all its imperfections! And those who demand instant perfection, the day after the revolution, they get up and say "Are there civil liberties for the fascists? Are they going to be allowed to have their newspapers, and their radio programme? Are they going to be able to keep all their farms?" The passion that some of our liberals feel the day after the revolution, the passion and concern they feel for the fascists—the civil rights and civil liberties of those fascists who were dumping and destroying and murdering people before—now the revolution has got to be perfect! It's got to be flawless! Well, that isn't my criteria! My criteria is, what happens to those people who couldn't read? What happens to those babies who couldn't eat—that died of hunger?

And there, that's why I support revolution. The revolution that feeds the children gets my support! Not blindly, not unqualified. And the Reaganite government that tries to stop that kind of process, that tries to keep those people in poverty and illiteracy and hunger—that gets my undiluted animosity and opposition. So that's—would be—that—that was my answer to you. Let's not judge these countries by what—by some abstract model, but by where they're coming from.

So you can judge a socialist country, one, by what it's replacing. Two, you can judge it by comparing it to U.S. society, and there, in some areas—you know there's more—higher level of production of goods and prosperity here, although it's very unequally distributed. The poor are the fastest so[cial]—fastest growing social group in America, from 24 to 35 million. That's growth, and since '80—1980. And three, you can judge a socialist country by an abstract model of what you might ultimately want.

By the way, that's not—that's not illegitimate. I shouldn't have said "Don't impose that." That's—that's a—that's a reasonable thing to do in a certain way. Not to damn the country, and to be holier than thou, but to say that there are aspirations—there are new forms of social relations we hope we can move to someday. There are places that Nicaraguans may go if they—if they don't have to give half of their income to their army to fight off the Contras. There's a new improvement, new cultural forms, new political forms that might develop. In fact, it's fascinating in Nicaragua that there are those new political forms.

So I would judge that way, and—and I would say that what we would do is look at socialist countries and look at things about them that might be, indeed, very admirable, and learn about them. The ignorance about existing socialism is abysmal. On the left, too. Learn about the People's Control Commissions in the Soviet Union; how they work. Learn about the ombudsman role of the press there. Learn about the—the function of trade unions.

William Winpisinger, President of the International Association of Machinists, comes back and he says "What clout [do] Soviet trade unions have? Well, I was astonished because I had already heard that they were just rubber stamps and didn't do anything." And he said, "Wow, what a role they played in production and planning and production—protecting the rights of workers. If we had that kind of clout, boy, this would be—we could really get results in our system." So there are [a] lot of things that are worthwhile which we should learn about—which might be helpful to us as a historical experience that might be useful to us, and also look at the things we don't like and say "No, we don't want that." That—that would be my approach. Anybody else?

Someone: This way. Five questions.

Parenti: Good. Could we just have—why don't we just have one—two—the last two questions because my answers tend to get long and it's late and the—and contrary to what you read in the paper, the pay isn't that good. I—I'm not getting what—I'm not getting what they printed. I saw those figures—that's not what I was getting. I think that sender is skimmy, but go ahead.

Someone: Could you briefly really comment on the untimely assassination of the socialist British Prime Minister? What [unintelligible].


  1. Although the U.S. did intervene in the Russian Civil War on the side of reaction, the American intervention lasted from 1918 to 1920. The Soviet Union was only declared in 1922.
  2. 19 years before, almost two decades.
  3. Árbenz became President in 1951, not 1954. His government was overthrown in 1954.
  4. The quote in Lippmann's words was "The rhetorical claim that if we do not stand fast in South Vietnam we shall have to fight in Hawaii or even in California seems to be a frivolous insult to the U.S. Navy."
  5. Parenti meant 'FMLN'.
  6. English: "I am a Communist."
  7. Exact quote was "...sharing has always been a part of my upbringing."
  8. Derogatory nickname for President Nixon.
  9. "Win one for the Gipper" was a campaign slogan used by Ronald Reagan in reference to George Gipp A.K.A. "The Gipper" from Knute Rocke, All American (1940), whom he plays in the film.
  10. The UN resolution Parenti is referring to is the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, written in 1981. Israel did not vote against this resolution. However, Israel did vote against another UN resolution bearing the same name in 2014, 28 years after this lecture was given. This note is for clarification.
  11. The Battle of Khe Sanh took place in 1968. At that time, Lyndon B. Johnson was the President of the United States, not Eisenhower. Not long after this statement, Parenti corrects himself and asserts that Nixon was President, but this is also wrong as Nixon was only made President in 1969. It's a minor point but still worth noting.
  12. English: Peasant farmer.


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  11. Parenti, Michael (1978).: Power and the Powerless. St. Martin's Press. p. 4