Amongst the stranger phenomena observed in the wake of revelations about U.S. government foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, we see the established Left launch a coordinated attack against those who maintain that there is a lot more to the story than mere government foreknowledge. Norman Solomon, Ed Herman, David Corn, Martin Lee, ChuckO of Infoshop, Chip Berlet, Mike Albert, Seymour Hersh, and others with similar politics, have all written articles for the usual Left magazines and websites, or have appeared on radio shows, warning their loyal flock against pursuing such lines of inquiry, and asserting that this could divert the Left from the real work that needs to be done. This has involved increasingly nasty personal attacks on those who do indeed pursue such inquiries, such as Michael Ruppert.
Like a chorus, all these supposed critics of the status-quo chime in that the Bush administration and its various agents are simply incompetent: nothing more, nothing less. It would be ridiculous, they say, to think that the administration is even capable of willful negligence in 9/11, i.e. knowing of the attacks but letting them happen so it could implement its policy of military interventions and domestic repression. And active complicity? Forget it. They uniformly voice their disbelief that any American president could be so callous about such mass loss of innocent American lives. More fundamentally, they assert that spending time trying to figure out the extent of U.S. government foreknowledge or complicity amounts to a surrender to "conspiracy theory", a method that overemphasizes bad deeds by bad people, and ignores systemic causes for events and policies. Thus, activists are diverted from the real task at hand, a challenge to the system's core structures.("Structuralism" is what they call their method.) I won't deal here with these individuals as such; others have done a great job compiling the articles and their critiques (see "The Magic Bullet Dissidents" feature section at www.questionsquestions.net). Instead, I'll focus on why I think this organized attack is happening.
The dichotomy which these so-called leftists assert exists pretty much only in their heads. No doubt, the capitalist system is what sets the context for all the actions of the state/corporate apparatus. Capital accumulation (curiously enough, this is left out of their "structuralism," as they have all abandoned a rigorous understanding of capitalism) has to be facilitated, for it is a process that always faces problems, and these problems mount as the accumulation proceeds to ever-larger levels. At the same time, the system must be legitimated. It isn't a very easy thing to convince the vast majority of humanity to go along with a social set-up which is based upon its own dispossession and exploitation so as to make a tiny shrinking minority ever richer, and upon the ever-wider destruction of the world's eco-system and its various human communities. The system's managers are thus obeying an objective imperative, and are not simply evil people who are out mucking up a basically good set-up. But all this involves decisions made by actual human beings, working within specific institutions whose aim is the perpetuation and expansion of world capitalism, or at least the well-being of their personal empires within that global mechanism. Capital in the abstract and institutions in the abstract only explain generalities or tendencies within which human actors have a range of choices, including criminal behavior. Pretending otherwise, taking what is sometimes a useful conceptual and rhetorical tool and making it into a material reality -- in fact a persona which makes conscious decisions -- amounts to understanding nothing.
Conspiracy theory is the smear term chosen to suppress the widening outbreak of inquiry into "deep politics," i.e. the pursuit of political aims in hidden, often criminal arenas. This is the latest stage of development in a long history of capital/state cooperation, whose nature has undergone major shifts in recent years. Conscious state planning on behalf of business interests has been a feature of public policy since the early days of capital, when the British Parliament in the late 18th Century undertook to codify and streamline the previously loose process of Enclosures, the conversion of common land to land owned by large estates. This process was at the heart of the birth and growth of the social system known as capitalism, and it always had at least tacit support from the government, ultimately in the form of state force. The move by the Parliament, however, meant that the process which had resulted in the enclosure of about half the public land in England over several centuries was now brought to a close in a couple of decades.
Such activity has increasingly marked the course of development of capital as it grew and faced ever-bigger barriers to further expansion. In the U.S., elite policy-making reached a new level with the "Progressive Era" in the early 20th Century, as the owners of the largest companies realized they could no longer simply let the market take its casual course. Such a loose approach only brought economic crises of ever-greater magnitude. Thus came the Federal Reserve, "anti-trust" bills, and other measures for increasing government/business coordination, brought to a head by the "liberal" administration of Woodrow Wilson. His administration also saw increased efforts by the elite to map out foreign policy ahead of time so as to facilitate expansion of U.S. interests outside the country, e.g. the founding of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Elite planning took a step back during the "Roaring '20s", but came back full force after the '29 crash in the form of the New Deal. The policies of the FDR administration were designed by the likes of G.E.'s Reginald Jones, Union Pacific's W. Averell Harriman and Lehman Brothers' (a huge Wall Street brokerage) Herbert Lehman. The Council on Foreign Relations (whose membership included almost all of the top people in FDR's State Department) mapped out American foreign policy and designed the U.S. intervention in WWII, with an eye towards ensuring Corporate America's dominaion of the post-War world. Pearl Harbor was no sneak attack, but an intended result of these plans. And the elite planners have been in total charge since. In addition, their deliberations have increasingly taken the form of non-public forums, with a growing, often extra-legal and undocumented role being played by the military, intelligence-gathering and police agencies, criminal entities, corporate cabals, secret cartels and "rogue" elements of the state apparatus. Strangely enough, the same people who demand focus on "institutions" seem totally blind to the way these various non-public and secret groupings have become institutionalized features of policy-making.
The IMF, the World Bank, a world market based upon the dollar,...all these essential features of the post WWII world economy were first hammered out in closed elite meetings. When problems with that global system began mounting by the late '50s, one of the policies that was resorted to was an escalation of the war in Indochina. Within that elite, there are often disputes over the best policies to follow, as well as competing interests. President John Kennedy, though a member of the elite, acted in ways contrary to the interests of some powerful people (over Cuba, I believe) and was therefore removed. Chomsky and his peers would have us believe the Warren Commission report on his assassination, which included still frames from a film that were printed in reverse order (to make Kennedy look like he was shot from the direction of the supposed assassin), out of worry that any focus on the assassination may whitewash Kennedy. The Pentagon Papers show well how the war escalation was secretly pre-planned, with the fake Tonkin Gulf incident used as a set-up to implement the already-existing plan. Further economic crisis in the '70s brought about new elite institutions such as the Trilateral Commission, with its quite open plans to effect further globalization and incorporate the then Soviet bloc, and the World Economic Forum. Subsequent decades of mounting crises have led to ever-closer coordination and planning.
Over the last several years, new problems have arisen. The global financial structure has began to show signs of severe stress, due in large part to the incredibly massive debt bubble that has been used to keep the problems at bay. Trade disputes between even the top actors in the global economy are mounting, as the underlying crisis of capitalism seemingly manifests itself in an overproduction situation, with more and more industries finding that too much is being produced with too few buyers. Also, people in more and more places are asserting an unwillingness to accept increasingly harsh austerity measures, environmental degradation, privatization of public services, mass enclosures of land, water, air, the airwaves, even our genes. The opposition to the increasing global coordination and penetration of capital has become public even in the advanced industrial nations, culminating with the G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, in July '01, which saw huge demonstrations and unprecedented police repression (unprecedented for the "West," that is). Meanwhile, global capital faces problems such as a looming permanent downturn in global oil production (The Big Rollover, a threat to the very underpinnings of a global capitalist economy.
The planners have been noticing these problems and have been drafting plans to deal with them, most blatantly in the 1997 book The Grand Chessboard by Zbigneiw Brzezinski. Zbig openly called for the American elite to begin preparing for a war in Central Asia to assure continued U.S. global dominance, but also noted that the American public would not support such a war barring an emphatically perceived external threat. So while the U.S. armed forces were practicing war in Central Asia in '97 and '98, other more far reaching plans were being drafted. What we see now is the implementation of these plans. And 9/11 fits to the dot the Pearl Harbor -like event that Zbig thought necessary to win the support of the American public for war.
It used to fall to the mainstream media to label people who brought up the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Bilderberg Society as "conspiracy mongers," even though Bill Moyers put it plainly in a show he did about David Rockefeller on February 7, 1980: "What some critics see as a vast international conspiracy, he considers a circumstance of life and just another day's work." What is new is the increasing tendency amongst the established figures on the Left, starting with Chomsky, but including the above mentioned cast of dozens, to play this role. One of the results of the defeat and collapse of the former Soviet bloc (which had nothing to do with socialism aside from creating a false impression of it) was that the established Left pretty much completed its transformation into a loyal opposition. Its members had already largely adopted by the 1920s a perspective that a post-capitalist future would not be possible for at least a century if not more, and that only after a slow reform process. But by the end of the Cold War, if not before, they came for the most part to view capital as an inevitable feature of human existence. Nor was the corporate "democratic" state to be fundamentally questioned. Instead, Left politics were to be focused on making capitalism better, more fair, better regulated, less racist/sexist, more "green", more "efficient". Leftists thus saw themselves as having established a niche within the status-quo, in academia, think tanks and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with a steady income and a stable platform from which they could issue their increasingly mild critiques of the system, and which they could possibly even use as a springboard for advancement within the ruling structure.
The 9/11 attacks, presented as they were as attacks by Islamic terrorists on "Western Civilization", thus were seen by the established Left as a great opportunity. They could at the same time denounce the "terrorists" who carried out the attacks, and the Islamic Fundamentalist politics they supposedly stood for, thus earning legitimacy points within the mainstream, while also articulating their critique of the status-quo for creating a social environment that incubated "Islamic terrorists" and other people who hate "us": a perfect spot for advancing their politics. This analysis appears to many people to be a hard-hitting indictment of the system, but in reality it lets it off the hook by not addressing the actual inner workings of the control mechanism and exposing its real agendas. The growing number of people who articulate a far more radical analysis of what happened on 9/11 threatens to undermine not only this opportunity to get ahead, but also the entire status-quo within which many of these Left icons now feel secure. In fact, they may well feel that their loyal flock could come to see them as the New Left of the '60s came to see the Communist Party U.S.A and the AFL-CIO, and other Old Left institutions which had come to be barriers to understanding and political change.
All this explains the increasing role played by the domesticated Left in counterinsurgency, the most important aspect of which is its marking of the outermost boundary of respectable dissent, set outside the spectrum of the mainstream discourse, which establishes the Democrat/Republican consensus, but not too far outside. Go further, and you get branded an "extremist" or simply nuts. The accepted Left is the outermost defense rampart of the power structure. Unrest within the ranks is first dealt with by the likes of Corn, Berlet, Solomon and Chomsky. If they fail, the mainstream media will step in and blast away. And if they fail, the state steps in, first with the undercover agencies, then with blatant police/military force. Along with the other troops, leftist luminaries have their marching orders, most likely delivered by their own perceived interests rather than actual supervisors, though one can wonder at times, given the incredible coordination of this new offensive.
My interest in an expose of the "deep politics" behind the 9/11 attacks has nothing to do with replacing the Bush administration with Democrats, who are and have been partners-in-crime, or with any "better leaders" taking over the state apparatus. Instead, I want the expose to be a wake-up call to all those alarmed by the current course of events, who should realize just how murderous the powers-that-be have become. In order to survive, the system has no choice: it will need to further attack living standards, despoil the environment in the face of mass eco-cide, and attack the growing opposition to these policies with its ever-more vicious military/police apparatus. A recent web article, whose statist conclusions I reject, nevertheless charts the growth of the real opposition, whose arena is not electoral politics, but mass action. Never has the gap between the grassroots and the official Left been so wide. The new insurgents more than ever need to recognize and contact each other, to strategize, and move to push aside the so-called icons who now jealously stand guard of their ossified institutions and secure positions. Nowadays, we have a lot more than a war to stop; we have a planet, ours, to save.
[This article was originally posted at Indymedia in June, 2002.]