"Michael Parenti - Conspiracy and Class Power"

Michael Parenti, "Conspiracy and Class Power" (1993 Berkeley, California)

"... getting on the Left lately is a debate in which people are saying we musn't look at conspiracy. We've got to look at the broader institutional systems. That's an argument being made by Alexander Coburn, Noam Chomsky, Chip Burlay, and any number of people. And I think it's an incorrect argument. That it's not conspiracy OR class power, it's conspiracy AND class power. And I'm not going to talk about any specific conspiracies in any detail. I want to talk about the relation of conspiracy to the larger political-economic context of the system. I want to start off by talking about that political economic system. And I think it can be approached in three basic ways."

[0:55] "First, you can look at the system as a conservative celebration. We've had twelve years of that, as you know. How wonderful our free-market society is and how much more wonderful it would be if not for meddlesome government regulations and the demands of undeserving low-income groups that feed out of the public trough [emphasis added]. That's the conservative celebration."

[1:19] "The Second approach is a liberal complaint about how some of our priorities are all wrong; how there are serious problems that represent aberrant departures from what is otherwise a basically good system [emphasis added]. That would be the Bill Clinton approach, perhaps."

[1:40] "And then the Third approach you might call a radical analysis. And that sees ecological crises and military interventions and the national security state and homelessness and poverty and an inequitable tax system and undemocratic social insitutiions such as the corporate-owned media, it sees these things not as aberrant outcomes of a basically radical system but as rational outcomes of a system whose central goal is the accumulation of wealth and power for a privileged class [emphasis added]. That is, [...] But Telomen is right that these things must all be looked at dialectically. That is, they must be looked at as part of a context of power and interest that is systemic. And you could look at race, you could look at gender, and you could look at class itself undialectically: just look at is as an income bracket or whatever else."

[2:38] "But what I'm talking about today is not class but class power. The class-power system which is something more and something else [emphasis added]. If you take that third perspective of a radical analysis. If you move from a conservative celebration or a liberal complaint to a radical analysis, you cross an invisible line, and you'll be labeled in mainstream circles as a conspiracy theorist, or a Marxist, or even a paranoid, terms which some people treat as co-terminous. One theorist I will quote, JG Makua, who wrote a book called The Veil and the Mask, a book which I recommend to you if you like bloated, turgid self-inflated theorizing that never pauses to substantiate its pronouncements. And Makua, he says: conspiratorial accounts of social dynamics are produced by vulgar Marxists. He further asserts that class interest is seldom a conscious matter. That's the cool position. Less cool than him as 1837 a Congress person by the name of Abraham Lincoln. And this is what Abraham Lincoln said in 1837."

[4:17] Now today, Abe Lincoln would be dismissed as a conspiracy theorist. He is ascribing concious intent to class interest. We know that isn't the way it works, they say. Now for some, conspiracy is by definition ridiculous and non-existent. But, in fact, brothers and sisters, conspiracy is a very real thing. In fact, it's a concept in law. 'Conspiracy' means that people go to jail for it. It means planning or acting together in secret, especially for an unlawful or harmul purpose, often with the use of illegal means [emphasis added]. It has come to mean, in fact, any machination, plot, or concerted deception. The state's major mode of operation, I have maintained in my books Democracy for the Few, Power and the Powerless, Sword in the Dollar, Inventing reality, the major mode of operation is systemic and legalized rather than conspiratorial. Never argue that the state maintains itself conspiratorially. No ruling interest could last long if it tried to control an entire society through the manipulations of secret cabals [emphasis added]."

[5:31] "At the same time, no ruling class could survive if it wasn't attentive to its own interest consciously trying to anticipate, control, or initiate events at home and abroad, both overtly and secretly [emphasis added]. It's hard to imagine a modern state in which there would be no conspiracies, plans, no machinations, deceptions of secrecy within the circles of power. In the United States, there have been conspiracies aplenty. I'll list a bunch of them. These are all now a matter of public record.

"In recent decades, the deliberately fabricated Tonkin Gulf Incident, which served as an excuse for escalating the Vietnam War. Do you mean that the President deliberately lied to mislead the American people, and he had this cold conspiracy to get him all worked up for something that never happened? Yes. We now know, yes. The Pentagon papers are out. Yes. It was a total fabrication and a lie."

"Operation Phoenix which no one heard about in which US forces set up assassination squads that murdered thousands, tens of thousands of dissidents in Vietnam. Secretly organized, illegal, immoral, unpublicized."

"The Watergate break-in was a conspiracy: an illegal, secret, unlawful act followed by another conspiracy, the second one, which was the one that brought Nixon down, the Watergate Cover-up.

"The FBI COINTELPRO involving dirty tricks, infiltration, and harassment of left-dissident groups. I remember reading in The New York Times when the story finally broke, the Church Committee and all that. The august New York Times said for years left groups have been saying that the FBI has been harassing them and we thought it was paranoia. Now it turns out there might have been some truth in it."

[7:23] "Well, welcome to reality New York Times. Every so often The Times hits right on reality like that and it's worth mentioning because it's so rare [emphasis added]."

Iran-Contra, in which executive leaders conspired to circumvent the law: secretly, illegally selling arms to Iran in exchange for funds that were then used in covert actions against Nicaragua.

". . ."

[25:35 "Those who would have us believe that unjust social arrangements, wrongful policies, are momentary aberrations. So there's Momentary Aberration Theory. There's Incompetence Theory. There's Unintended Consequences Theory. There's Innocent Cultural Proclivities Theory. And to be sure such things exist. I mean, there are unintended consequencs. There are cultural influences and all that. But do they explain the reasons why the major policy decisions of political and economic leaders, the reasons for the major policy decisions of our leaders, evidence and common sense suggests that the rich and powerful are not oblivious to their interests and do not leave things to chance."

"The Innocence Theorists dismissed those who see evil and evil-doers as paranoid. A few years ago I was participating in a conference at the University of Colorado in Bolder, some interesting people are David Dellinger was there. David Barr Samian, I think. Holly Sklar. I think Ward Churchill was there And I was to give the keynote address in the evening. And there were these panels during the day, so I slipped away to do what I really like to do and I went over to find a used-book store to look for odd titles of books. And I was standing in the aisle and on the other side of the bookshelf -- I couldn't see them and they couldn't see me -- were these two guys, and one says to the other 'Hey, you see this? . . . Do you see who they've have talking up on the campus at this conference? It looks like a who's-who of paranoia.' And I sort of stifled a guffaw and I said, 'Wait a minute, they're talking about me.' And I said: 'Who are those guys and why did they follow me here?' I didn't say that."

[27:45] "But Paranoia. These things don't really happen . . ."

". . ."

[29:39] "Historian Frank Kofski, in his book called Harry Truman and the 1948 War Scare, which will be published in the fall -- I read it in manuscript -- and let me read a little statement that he said:"


"And I would add, it’s ironic that the group most organized to concert and control is to be least considered as doing so by the innocence theorists [emphasis added]."

[31:09] "As the capitalist state develops it also increasingly develops its class consciousness and it brings forth coteries of policy makers who move in law, business, military, and government circles, sometimes rotating, one from the other. Those who are sometimes referred to as the power elite, the ruling elite, the plutocracy, more broadly I consider them the active agents of the ruling class [emphasis added]. Their existence is a matter of public record. It has been documented excellently by such fine scholars as Lawrence Shoop who is here today in the audience – that’s not why I’m mentioning him, I was going to do that anyway before I knew he was here – William Dom Hoff, Holley Sklar, they’ve talked about the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Conference and other coteries of consciously organized power and policy making. These individuals all have a loyalty to a particular class ideology. You could not get into their ranks with a different ideology. If you can, give me an example."

[32:18]"You don't have to be rich to be brought into the ranks, although it helps. You just have to be useful [emphasis added]. . . ."

". . . [more to transcribe when time permits] . . ."

[another video to watch and transcribe]:

Pirate Television: The Myth of Capitalism with Michael Parenti 106,705 views •May 17, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NA8mBCl7Y2U