The US Government is a Paper Tiger
By Dennis Loo (2/23/14)
In the face of revelations ...
that the US government has been spying on literally everyone, imprisoning indefinitely and even preventively detaining people at places like Guantanamo, torturing people without granting any of those they’re torturing the right to challenge their indefinite detention,
and that anyone is now subject to accusations of “terrorism” for merely exercising their First Amendment rights,
a few students of mine, upon learning the magnitude of these governmental transgressions, have expressed not only shock and anger but fear.
It is here where, as Bob Avakian has put it, epistemology and morality meet. What fear leads to, if one gives into it, is not good. Fear that keeps someone from fighting against grave injustice leads one sooner or later, inexorably and inevitably, to adopting the stance of the infamous “Good Germans,” those who in the face of the Nazis, obediently followed orders and cooperated with fascist authorities, including by participating directly in committing atrocities upon those most directly targeted by the regime.
If one responds to those who traffic in fear by focusing on trying to save one’s own skin, the logic of that approach can only bring you and others to grief.
That is the moral question: do we fight against injustice or do we allow it to go on? Do we determine what we should do on the basis of our own self or do we look at the larger picture and act on behalf of society and humanity? Do we cower before bullies or do we rise to the occasion?
There is also the epistemological dimension. How do we know what we know? When we say that we know that the US government is so powerful that it can do whatever it wants and resistance to it is futile, how is it that one arrives at such a fact? Is it in fact a fact?
In responding to that, I am first going to excerpt from a July 14, 1956 talk by Mao Zedong, the Chinese communist revolutionary who led the Chinese people in the 1949 communist revolution that freed China from foreign imperialism and domestic allies of imperialism such as the KMT leader Chang Kai-Shek. Subsequent to Mao’s death in 1976, a group of counter-revolutionaries masking themselves as Mao’s true inheritors and led by Deng Xiao-Peng, seized power in a coup d’etat. China was gradually converted from a socialist country into a state capitalist one.
Mao was speaking to two Latin American public figures.
Now U.S. imperialism is quite powerful, but in reality it isn't. It is very weak politically because it is divorced from the masses of the people and is disliked by everybody and by the American people too. In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of, it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. I believe the United States is nothing but a paper tiger.
History as a whole, the history of class society for thousands of years, has proved this point: the strong must give way to the weak. This holds true for the Americas as well. Only when imperialism is eliminated can peace prevail. The day will come when the paper tigers will be wiped out. But they won't become extinct of their own accord, they need to be battered by the wind and the rain.
When we say U.S. imperialism is a paper tiger, we are speaking in terms of strategy. Regarding it as a whole, we must despise it. But regarding each part, we must take it seriously. It has claws and fangs. We have to destroy it piecemeal. For instance, if it has ten fangs, knock off one the first time, and there will be nine left, knock off another, and there will be eight left. When all the fangs are gone, it will still have claws. If we deal with it step by step and in earnest, we will certainly succeed in the end.
Strategically, we must utterly despise U.S. imperialism. Tactically, we must take it seriously. In struggling against it, we must take each battle, each encounter, seriously. At present, the United States is powerful, but when looked at in a broader perspective, as a whole and from a long-term viewpoint, it has no popular support, its policies are disliked by the people, because it oppresses and exploits them. For this reason, the tiger is doomed. Therefore, it is nothing to be afraid of and can be despised. But today the United States still has strength, turning out more than 100 million tons of steel a year and hitting out everywhere. That is why we must continue to wage struggles against it, fight it with all our might and wrest one position after another from it. And that takes time.
It seems that the countries of the Americas, Asia and Africa will have to go on quarrelling with the United States till the very end, till the paper tiger is destroyed by the wind and the rain.
Those who think that what the US government has been doing in implementing these draconian policies reflects strength are missing the essence, distracted by the surface appearance of things.
Yes, certainly these policies by the US government are terrible and need to be taken with the utmost seriousness. As Mao put it, “regarding each part, we must take it seriously. It has claws and fangs.”
But strategically, US imperialism merits our utter contempt. For it is a fearsome looking paper tiger whose claws and fangs can be lopped off one by one. It all takes time and tremendous effort. But it can be and has been done.
If you don’t have training in how to see things all-sidedly, that is, dialectically, then what you’re going to do and can only do is see things mechanically or eclectically. All things have two aspects to them and these two aspects are in dynamic tension with each other. Here’s an example:
If you don’t understand how governments rule and how they use persuasion and coercion to maintain power, then you will be deluded by the seeming indestructability of the government’s power. You will miss the fact, for example, that the government has to lie constantly and incessantly about what it’s doing and why it’s doing it in order to gain enough public support for their actions. They have to say that they are doing the very exact opposite of what they’re actually doing, in order to demobilize those who would otherwise oppose what the government is doing. If the government was so all-powerful that it truly could do whatever it wanted, then it would not have to and would not bother to tell people the exact opposite of what they’re doing. They could be very open about what they’re doing and say: “We’re doing this because we’re in charge and you just have to go along with it or else.”
Secondly, if the government was so powerful that it couldn’t be stopped, then it wouldn’t be saying that it was doing the exact opposite of what it's doing. The government would admit openly the real reasons why it's doing what it's doing. If you’re so powerful that you can’t be stopped, then why open yourself up to being potentially revealed to be utterly deceitful about your motives? Why tell people the precise opposite of what you’re doing?
The reason why Obama is telling people that he’s protecting the rule of law and the rights of whistleblowers, protecting people’s Fourth Amendment rights and not spying on Americans without a warrant, and that he sympathizes with Trayvon Martin’s family, that he’s concerned about global warming, and so on, is because he knows that if he told people what he’s really doing that they would rise up in large numbers in rebellion against it.
The whole reason why Obama even became the nominee for a major political party in this country when he did was because millions of people were in danger of spiraling out of the control of the powers that be because of their anger and opposition to what Bush and Cheney were doing. Obama had to be brought in to convince people that the system was still fundamentally fair. He was specifically tapped for his skin tone and his ability to mislead people into thinking that he was doing the opposite of what he’s been doing.
Many people think that the ways things are is due to the public’s assent, that the reason why things are messed up is because the people in their majority accept things that they shouldn’t because they’re stupid or mentally lazy or avaricious and apathetic and/or that they actively want things to be this way. This view comes from functionalist theory. It comes from the assumptions inherent in Emile Durkheim’s view that the collective sentiment (what he called the conscience collective) determines social norms, including the formal ones called laws. Democratic theory dovetails with functionalist theory and assumes that public policies are what they are because the majority of the public want it to be that way. A closer examination of public policy and its origins and implementation reveals that these assumptions about the masses of people being in charge are wrong. See Globalization and the Demolition of Society, especially Chapter Five.
The public is overwhelmingly poorly informed and lied to and they largely do not know the truth about what’s going on in foreign and domestic policy. That is the main reason why they are going along, because they don’t know what they need to know. They do not know that they don’t know what they should know. If you don’t know that you are being lied to systematically, then why would you go searching to find out the truth if you didn’t know that you didn’t know the truth already?
The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people in any society are going to rely exclusively or primarily upon the mainstream media and the pronouncements of public officials for their understanding of what is going on unless and until there is a mass movement in opposition to the government.
Most people don’t have a college education and the majority of those who do have a college education or who are in college don’t know that they have to seek out alternative sources of information to that of the mainstream media and public officialdom to find out what is really true. Even among the small fraction of people who do realize that they are being lied to, or suspect that they are being lied to, don’t generally know how to evaluate the veracity of alternative sources of information and analysis. To do that requires a kind of training in critical thinking and research skills that only a very small fraction of the population has even been exposed to, let alone really trained in doing on a consistent basis.
When the Bush Regime was preparing to launch its war of aggression upon Iraq, it had to engage in a two year campaign of deliberate distortions and massive lies to convince people that Iraq was behind 9/11. If the US government were so powerful that they can do whatever they want, then all Bush and Cheney had to do instead is declare that “We’re mad at whoever hit us on 9/11 and we’re going to go smash up some countries over there in the Middle East region. We don’t care that the ones we smash might have no connection to 9/11. We’re just going to smash ‘em anyway.” How many Americans would have signed on to that? How many Americans would have joined the military to fight for that?
The fact is that political power requires that those in power, in order to hold onto power, have to persuade most people that what they’re doing is legitimate. If a sizable minority, let alone majority, of the people become convinced that what the government is doing is illegitimate, there aren’t enough police officers and soldiers to quell the level of domestic unrest that would ensue.
Governments do not rule in a vacuum. (The only thing that exists in a vacuum is a vacuum.) As I argue in my book, Globalization and the Demolition of Society:
[T]he exercise of political power is surprisingly tenuous compared to conventional understandings of it. It all turns on a small set of facts and fairly subtle interpretive moves. The framing of public issues, a process in which media play a major role, determines what gets done and how it is done. Framing determines whether actions are seen as legitimate and whether the actors advocating the actions are themselves seen as acting legitimately.
Legitimacy is fundamentally the be-all and end-all of political rule. When leaders come to be seen as illegitimate, there are not enough guns and soldiers to hold back the people. Governments can suppress people for a time with violence, but they cannot win if enough of the people see them as illegitimate. The swing votes on this question, figuratively speaking, are from the middle strata of society. In general, the working class and oppressed minorities tend to be much more cynical about government and corporate America, carrying on their lives without a strong belief in the legitimacy of the status quo. The lower strata go along with the program largely because they know that every day “the Man” uses violence to keep them in line and will deploy more force on short notice. They recognize that rebelling against the status quo has no chance of success on an individual or small-group level in ordinary times; it only has a chance when very large groups of people act in concert.
When the middle strata and the intelligentsia break ranks with the people who wield societal power, then these ruling groups, who are a very tiny minority to begin with, are in deep trouble. The use of violence by a government against its adversaries only forestalls the inevitable at that point. Indeed, violence will usually accelerate the inevitable, because by using violence, leaders further expose their fundamental character and shock ordinarily quiescent people from the middle strata, as well as intellectuals, into political opposition (Pp. 273-4).
The reason why the governnent is riding roughshod over Constitutional rights and the rule of law is because it knows that its policies and the actions of big corporations are systematically pulling the rug out from under the vast majority of people on the planet. They know that opposition to these policies is inevitable. Their only hope of holding onto power and continuing capitalism-imperialism is through intimidation, fear, and repression. Those who benefit from the status quo are in a tiny minority domestically and especially worldwide. They can only hope that most people will be cowed in fear of the paper tiger.
This site aims to accomplish two related goals. First, it complements Dennis Loo's book Globalization and the Demolition of Society so that people reading the book can get more deeply into it. (See navigation bar above, labeled "GDS Book Annotations"). We believe that his book is a landmark, providing a solid foundation for politics of a new path. Taking such a path is critical to humanity and the planet's future. As his book's dust jacket states:
[F]ree market fundamentalism - also known as neoliberalism - makes us not more secure or prosperous: it tears the social fabric and undermines security, leading inevitably to disasters on the individual, regional, and global levels.
Neoliberalism is based on the mantra that market forces should run everything. It aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It consequently undermines the basis for people to voluntarily cooperate with authority as almost everyone is increasingly left by themselves to face gargantuan private interests, with governmental and corporate authority ever more indifferent to the public’s welfare.
Those in charge of our collective fates in government and business personify a heartless system based on profit and plunder. They have been relentlessly instituting profoundly immoral and unjust policies even while they insist that they are doing the opposite. We, on the other hand, stand for and are fighting for a radically different system and set of values than this.
Second, in order to get at the truth and because the ways in which humanity's historic striving for understanding and its capacity to wonder and imagine are very rich and diverse, we seek to reflect that richness and diversity on our site. See "About Us" on navigation bar. We intend to be engaging and compelling, as the best investigative journalism and art are, and relentlessly scientific, rigorous, and direct, as those who cherish the truth are. We believe that we can be both accessible and sophisticated. As Loo lays out in his book,
Defeating the empire is not something that occurs only on the literal battlefield. It is also something that is determined throughout the continuum of battles over many issues, including: ideas; philosophy; forms of organization and leadership in economy, politics, and other realms; ways of arguing; ways of responding to and respecting empirical data; interest in truth as opposed to expedience; how people and the environment should be treated; the nature of relations among people (e.g., between women and men, different races and ethnicities, rich and poor countries, etc.); ways of responding to criticism and ideas that are not your own; ways of handling one’s own errors and those of others; and more, all the way up through how warfare is carried out. The contrast between the methods and goals of the neoliberals and those of us who seek an entirely different world is stark. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 326-7)