Government Speaks Against Anarchism

By Brian Oliver Sheppard
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, prominent U.S. policymakers have exploited an increase in patriotism and public fear, directing these volatile emotions into consent for pro-corporate, neo-liberal trade agendas with the implication that such is the path to safety. Manipulation of the media by the government did not begin and end with the short life-span of the Office of Strategic Influence, the Pentagon’s ill-fated, bizarre, openly announced plan to spread misinformation to the media. The media, relying heavily on government sources for information, was lied to long before the OSI was created. There is no reason to believe that, after the public show of dismantling the OSI, it will stop.

In some recent cases, U.S. government officials have linked the beliefs of the terrorists to those of anti-corporate globalization protesters, referring explicitly to anarchists and other “enemies of civilization” as bedfellows. This sort of slander has easily passed onto the airwaves and into print, misinforming the public. U.S. government officials rarely acknowledge anarchist or anti-capitalist ideas at all; when they do, the intent is always ideological and usually plays upon the useful if somewhat antiquated myth of anarchists as bomb-throwing maniacs.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, one of the more vehement capitalist ideologues in Washington, said an economic “counteroffensive” that includes charging ahead with neoliberal trade agreements to “complement” the military action will be required to eliminate threats to American national security.

In his speech on Sept. 24, just thirteen days after the terrorist attacks, Zoellick compared the contemporary crisis of globalization to that of the emerging world order at the end of the nineteenth century. At that time, “much like today,” Zoellick said, there were “great social movements sparked by globalization, although the participants in the revived Olympics of 1896 ran around a track, instead of in the streets, and hurled objects toward chalk lines, instead of at windows.” Zoellick also told us that there were foolish “theorists and thinkers [who] called for a stateless society, without government and law, without ownership of property, without the ruling class and their despised ally, the bourgeoisie.” This utopian idealism led to the problem – “much like today” – of “anarchists bent on senseless destruction.” In the meantime, “crashing debates in the Socialist International” [sic] led the misguided to try to overthrow capitalism altogether.

Within a few paragraphs, Zoellick connects recent terrorist attacks with historic anti-capitalist movements and with modern day anti-corporate globalization protesters. He gives us “this brief recollection” of radicalism to answer people who “wonder if there are intellectual connections with others who have turned to violence to attack international finance, globalization, and the United States.”

The trade ambassador’s crowning analysis of these kinds of reactions is that “[c]hange breeds anxiety” and that “[a]nxieties can be manipulated to force agendas based on fear, antagonisms, resentments and hate,” as terrorists try to do. Zoellick doesn’t say that he is doing just that: using the fear felt by post-Sept. 11 Americans to force the agenda of corporate profits, and neoliberal globalization, onto the world.

Martin Neil Baily, an economist and Clinton appointee to Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, concurs with Zoellick that “the attacks were part of the backlash against globalization.” Baily says the poor’s envy helped motivate the attacks. The U.S. “is a target partly because it is the symbol of the success of market-driven international economies,” he wrote in a recent policy brief. Baily alludes that the underlying reason for the attacks has nothing to do with how the U.S. came to be a “successful” economy, but simply that it is successful. Supposedly, success is something that just leads to violent resentment amongst the impotent. It also allows U.S. elites to pat themselves on the back, and believe that terrorists attacked the U.S. not because it has done anything wrong, but, to the contrary, because it is so great.

Baily champions a “defiant response” to such sore losers. Employing an apocalyptic rhetoric of crisis not seen since the Cold War, Baily claimed that in “the context of the global threat the democracies of the world now face, the petty squabbles over beef or foreign sales corporations seem absurd.” Although a continued recession is expected, policymakers should not accommodate success-hating terrorists. “The industrial countries should resist any internal pressures toward protectionism as unemployment rises and, instead, launch a new global trade round,” to show the angry poor that all will proceed as normal.

During an Oct. 24 speech at the Institute for International Economics, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan also warned that “[t]errorism poses a challenge to the remarkable record of globalization.” By situating the battle lines so that one is either for terrorism or for neoliberal globalization, people with reservations about the latter can be intellectually bullied into supporting it. “What are the dissidents’ solutions to the alleged failures of globalization?” Greenspan rhetorically asked his elite audience. “Frequently, they appear to favor politically imposed systems, employing the power of the state to override the outcomes arrived at through voluntary exchange.”

Greenspan, an acolyte of ultra-capitalist Ayn Rand and nominally opposed to government intervention into nations’ economies, raised the authoritarian socialist specter of “politically imposed systems.” He does not realize that the imposition – political or otherwise – of corporate globalization is exactly what many globalization activists protest, and that the “voluntary exchange” he refers to does not often exist in the reality of a corporate-run economy. What often exists, instead, is the “voluntary exchange” between the hungry and well fed, the homeless and those owning hundreds of acres of land, the needy and the opulent – in short, the powerless and powerful. What history – and UN statistics – have shown thus far is that postwar, corporate globalization tends to widen the gap between these groups of people, not reconcile it. It remains to be seen how a wage worker in a sweatshop in Saipan can be realistically said to be “voluntarily exchanging” his or her labor to a corporation when the specter of poverty and hunger lashes at their back. Holding this up as an example of the free marketeer’s wet dream of “voluntary exchange” is an insult to the exploited wage worker.

Greenspan lamented that “an antipathy to ‘corporate culture’ has sent tens of thousands into the streets to protest what they see as ‘exploitive capitalism’ in its most visible form – the increased globalization of our economies.” He continues:

“Setting aside the arguments of the protestors, even among those committed to market-oriented economies, important differences remain about the view of capitalism and the role of globalization. These differences are captured most clearly for me in a soliloquy attributed to a prominent European leader several years ago. He asked, ‘What is the market? It is the law of the jungle, the law of nature. And what is civilization? It is the struggle against nature.'”

A struggle against capitalism is still like a struggle against nature itself, Greenspan’s version of the quote implies, much akin to struggling against the law of gravity or any other natural law. How reassuring it must be for airline executives to know that as they lay over 100,000 employees off, even after receiving government bailout money, they are simply acting in accord with the “laws of nature.”

Capitalism is sure to benefit from new anti-terrorist legislation that effectively lumps domestic dissidents in with terrorists like the ones who hijacked the planes on Sept. 11. The ideas of anti-capitalist protesters and anarchists, rarely discussed by US government officials, are now being misrepresented in the same breath that these same officials use to condemn the destruction of the World Trade Center. The Wall Street Journal triumphantly titled a recent article “Adeiu, Seattle,” referring to the famous anti-WTO protests in 1999 in Seattle. The globalization movement has now “receded to the netherworld where we have tucked all the things that seemed important” before Sept. 11, it crows.

A similar news item also appeared in the Washington Post, which explicitly linked the modern anarchist movement to the very un-anarchistic al-Qaeda. Writing of the current crop of Islamist extremists, David Ignatius writes on Oct. 28 that “they may have more in common with the Western anarchists of a century ago than with the Muslim fedayeen of the 7th century.” Ignatius elaborates on this point and says “bin Laden’s texts are couched in the language of Islam, [and] they read like the flowery manifestos of the elitist bomb-throwers of the 19th century – people like Prince Peter Kropotkin or Mikhail Bakunin.”

The avalanche of misinformation that has poured from the mouths of government and media officials post-Sept. 11 demands that anarchists remain vigilant. Under these circumstances, with the corporate media dictating the terminology so forcibly, many have chosen to toss the epithet “anarchist” and are calling themselves “peace activists” or “social justice activists.” The government misinformation campaign assures that many will be introduced to the ideas of anarchism in a distorted and misleading way: they will see that anarchist ideas seem to be associated with the most inhumane practices and will be disgusted and never pursue the subject further. The association of anarchism with violent bomb throwing also assures that those that do become attracted to anarchism will be those kinds of people that the anarchist movement doesn’t need – namely, violent, antisocial people attracted to chaos and destruction.

Their ultimate purpose is to associate anti-capitalist globalization activism with extremist groups like al-Qaeda. Global financiers and corporate elites hope to profit from this confusion long enough to achieve their aim – complete subjugation of every corner of the earth to market rule. For this, free market cheerleaders will exploit the deaths of 3,000 innocent people in New York City, ensuring that their agenda of global corporate hegemony will succeed. In doing such, they do a disservice to the memories of the dead, and, in macabre fashion, receive the terrorist atrocities as a gift they can make much use of.

Perhaps more than ever, anarchists and others need to support alternative media networks such as the Indymedia network on the Internet, pirate radio on the airwaves and local zines and newspapers made by activist groups, unions and others. Well-known and credible media accountability groups like FAIR ( should be supported so that the corporate media outlets know they are being watched. Any group that activists may be involved in should appoint one press person to monitor local coverage of issues relevant to that group.

Brian Oliver Sheppard is an anarchist writer and organizer who writes for The Industrial Worker and has written for Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, Kontrapunkt and other anarchist papers. His Exploitation and How it Affects You was published by Barricade Books in Melbourne, Australia, in 2000.


%d bloggers like this: