Understanding the World with Paul Sweezy

By Cockburn, Alexander | The Nation, March 22, 2004 | Go to article overview

Understanding the World with Paul Sweezy


Cockburn, Alexander, The Nation


I'm an optimist by disposition, but some weeks it's hard to find evidence of progress in human affairs. Here on the TV screen is Colin Powell, smoothly fulfilling his designated function as the Empire's prime dispenser of official lies. This particular morning he's ladling unctuous bilge about the US-sponsored coup in Haiti, even as the renascent Tontons Macoutes, under the tolerant gaze of USMC officers, swarm across Port-au-Prince, chopping up any supporters of Aristide they can find.

And here's John Kerry, the Democratic nomination in his grasp. Having made his own zestful contribution to the body count in Vietnam during the Phoenix sweeps, Kerry knows where many of the Empire's bodies are rotting. In his first Senate term he even led useful hearings into the BCCI scandal and the arms-for-cocaine shuttle in Central America. Then the Elders of Empire told him to mind his manners, which he promptly did.

But truth can pop out of Kerry's mouth from time to time, as happened amid the Haiti coup unrolling at the end of February under the carefully uncomprehending eyes of the US press. The Bush Administration, Newsday reported Kerry as saying, has "a theological and ideological hatred for Aristide," which led to the Administration empowering the rebels.

Not so bad. Then Kerry flew to Los Angeles (where the LAPD had just plugged more than ten bullets into a robber backing his car toward them) and called for 40,000 more troops, 100,000 more cops here at home, 100,000 more firemen. There's Keynesianism in action for you: John Kerry's bold pledge for job creation. He also pumped up California's AG, Bill Lockyer, to prod the state Supreme Court into banning San Francisco's same-sex marriage.

Democrats will spend the rest of the year insisting they're not liberal softies. So rest assured, Kerry says, "I will not hesitate to order direct military action when needed to capture and destroy terrorist groups and their leaders." The Washington Post noted that "Kerry appeared to outline his own preemptive doctrine in the speech." That's the presidential option this year: a choice between pre-emptive doctrines. Bill Blum, who's written a useful history of the National Endowment for Democracy, picked up on Kerry's attack on Bush in this same speech for providing insufficient funding for NED. As Bill wrote, "He probably thought he was on safe ground; the word 'democracy' always sells well. But this is his most depressing comment of all. He's calling for more money for an organization that was set up to be a front for the CIA, literally, and that for 20 years has been destabilizing governments, progressive movements, labor unions, and anyone else on Washington's hit list," including Haiti, where the NED has been active.

"When all seems dark," my father, Claud, used to say when I was a teenager, "try reading a little Marx. It puts things in perspective." As I'd mope over the defection of some girlfriend, he'd thrust a copy of the Eighteenth Brumaire into my hand and tell me to cheer up. I remembered Claud's advice last weekend, when news that one of the world's great Marxist economists, Paul Sweezy, had died at the age of 93.

Sweezy wasn't at all like Marx in demeanor. …

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