Ideas Are Also Weapons
by Subcomandante Marcos
Toward Freedom magazine, November 2000
The world is not square, or so we learn at school, yet, on the brink of the third millennium, it is not round, either. I do not know which geometrical figure best represents the world in its present state but, in an era of digital communication, we could see it as a gigantic screen-one of those screens you can program to display several pictures at the same time, one inside the other. In our global world, the pictures come from all over the planet. But some are missing-not because there is not enough room on the screen but because someone up there selected these pictures rather than others.
What do the pictures show? On the American continent, we see a paramilitary group occupying the Autonomous National University of Mexico (Unam); but the men in gray uniforms aren’t there to study. Another frame shows an armored column thundering through a native community in Chiapas. Beside this, we see US police using violence to arrest a youth in a city that could be Seattle or Washington. The pictures in Europe are just as gray.
A MEMORABLE OMISSION
Intellectuals have been part of society since the dawn of humanity. Their work is analytical and critical. They look at social facts and analyze the evidence, for and against, looking for anything ambiguous, revealing anything that is not obvious-sometimes even the opposite of what seems obvious.
These professional critics act as a sort of impertinent consciousness for society. They are non-conformists, disagreeing with everything-social and political forces, the state, government, media, arts, religion, and so on.
Activists will just say, “We’ve had enough,” but skeptical intellectuals will cautiously murmur “too much” or “not enough.” Intellectuals criticize immobility, demand change and progress. They are, nevertheless, part of a society which is the scene of endless confrontation and is split between those who use power to maintain the status quo and those who fight for change.
Intellectuals must choose between their function as intellectuals and the role that activists offer them. It is also here that we see the split between progressive and reactionary intellectuals. They all continue their work of critical analysis. But whereas the more progressive persist in criticizing immobility, permanence, hegemony, and homogeneity, the reactionaries focus their attacks on change, movement, rebellion, and diversity. So, in fact, reactionary intellectuals “forget” their true function and give up critical thought. Their memory shrinks, excluding past and future to focus only on the immediate and present. No further discussion is possible.
Many leading right-wing intellectuals start life as progressives. But they soon attract the attention of the powerful, who deploy innumerable stratagems to buy or destroy them. Progressive intellectuals are “born” in the midst of a process of seduction and persecution. Some resist; others, convinced that the global economy is inevitable, look in their box of tricks and find reasons to legitimize the existing power structure. They are awarded with a comfortable armchair, on the right hand of the prince they once denounced.
They can find any number of excuses for this supposedly “inevitable” outcome: It is the end of history; money is everywhere and all-powerful; the police have taken the place of politics; the present is the only possible future; there is a rational explanation for social inequality. There are even “good reasons” for the unbridled exploitation of human beings and natural resources, racism, intolerance, and war.
In an era marked by two new paradigms- communication and the market-right-wing intellectuals have realized that being “modern” means obeying one rule: “Adapt or go under.” They aren’t required to be original, just to think like everyone else, taking their cue from international bodies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, or World Trade Organization.
Far from indulging in original, critical thought, right-wing intellectuals become remarkably pragmatic, echoing the advertising slogans that flood the world’s markets. In exchange for a place in the sun and the support of certain media and governments, they cast off their critical imaginations and any form of self-criticism, and espouse the new, free market creed.
The problem isn’t why the global economy is inevitable, but why almost everyone agrees that it is. Just as the economy is becoming increasingly global, so is culture and information. How are we to prevent vast media and communications companies like CNN or News Corporation, Microsoft or AT&T, from spinning their worldwide web?
In today’s world economy, the major corporations are essentially media enterprises, holding up a huge mirror to show us what society should be, not what it is. To paraphrase Regis Debray, what is visible is real and consequently true. That, by the way, is one of the tenets of right-wing dogma. Debray also explains that the center of gravity of news has shifted from the written word to visual effects, from recorded to live broadcasts, from signs to pictures.
To retain their legitimacy, today’s right-wing intellectuals must fulfill their role in a visual era, opting for what is immediate and direct, switching from signs to images, from thought to TV commentary.
In Mexico, left-wing intellectuals are very influential. Their crime is that they get in the way. Well, at least one of their crimes, since they also support the Zapatistas in their struggle. “The Zapatista uprising heralds the start of a new era in which native movements will emerge as players in the fight against the neoliberal global economy,” they say. But we are neither unique nor perfect. Just look at the natives of Ecuador and Chile, and the demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, Prague- and those that will follow. We are just one of the pictures that deform the giant screen of the world economy.
The prince has consequently issued orders: “Attack them! I shall supply the army and media. You come up with the ideas.” So, right-wing intellectuals spend their time insulting their left-wing counterparts, and because of the Zapatista movement’s international impact, they are now busy rewriting our story to suit the demands of the prince.
In one of his books, Umberto Eco provides some pointers as to why fascism is still latent. He starts by warning us that fascism is a diffuse form of totalitarianism, then defines its characteristics: refusal of the advance of knowledge, disregard of rational principles, distrust of culture, fear of difference, racism, individual or social frustration, xenophobia, aristocratic elitism, machismo, individual sacrifice for the benefit of the cause, televised populism, and use of Newspeak with its limited words and rudimentary syntax.
These are the values that right-wing intellectuals defend. Take another look at the giant screen. All that gray is a response to disorder, reflected in demands for law and order from all around us. But, is Europe once more the prey of fascism? We may well see skinheads, with their swastikas, on the screen, but the commentator is quick to reassure us that they are only minority groups, already under control. But it may also take other, more sinister forms.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, both sides of the political spectrum in Europe rushed to occupy the center. This was all too obvious with the traditional left, but it was also the case with the far right. It went out of its way to acquire a new image, well removed from its violent, authoritarian past, enthusiastically espousing neoliberal dogma.
The task of progressive thinkers-to remain skeptically hopeful-isn’t an easy one. They have understood how things work and, noblesse oblige, they must reveal what they know, dissect it, denounce it, and pass it on to others. But to do this, they must also confront neoliberal dogma, backed by the media, banks, major corporations, army, and police.
What is more, we live in a visual age. And so, to their considerable disadvantage, progressive thinkers must fight the power of the image with nothing but words. But their skepticism will get them out of that trap, and if they are equally skeptical in their critical analysis, they will be able to see through the virtual beauty to the real misery it conceals. So, perhaps there is reason to hope.
There is a story that when Michelangelo sculpted his statue of David, he had to work on a “second-hand” piece of marble that already had holes in it. It is a mark of his talent that he was able to create a figure that took account of these limitations. The world we want to transform has already been worked on by history and is largely hollow. We must nevertheless be inventive enough to change it and build a new world. Take care, and do not forget that ideas are also weapons.
Subcommandante Marcos led the Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas, Mexico until he exited the stage. The above is excerpted from “La droite intellectuelle et lefascisme liberal,” first published in Le Monde diplomatique, August 2000.
“Wisconsin is the model”: Grover Norquist’s Tea Party scheme to crush his union enemies
At CPAC panel, RNC Chair Priebus touts “total and complete unity” between GOP, Tea Party, and Glenn Beck acolytes
Josh Eidelson, Salon, March 8, 2014
“How did we do it in Wisconsin?” RNC Chair Reince Priebus asked Saturday morning. “The simplest way I can tell you is we had total and complete unity between the state party, quite frankly, Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party groups, the Grandsons of Liberty. The [Glenn Beck-instigated] 9/12ers were involved. It was a total and complete agreement that nobody cared who got the credit, that everyone was going to run down the tracks together.”Priebus made his comments on a Saturday morning CPAC panel addressing how conservatives could fight and defeat organized labor state by state. Moderator Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, opened the panel by suggesting that conservatives had been neglecting the union issue in recent years out of a mistaken sense that private sector union demise was inevitable, and that public sector union decline was impossible.
Grover Norquist’s ideology in one cartoon:
Rather, argued Norquist, a raft of National Labor Relations Board appointments by Obama – who he said had made a strategic error by prioritizing Obamacare over a pro-union “card check” bill – would make this “the time for the other team to cheat” and hike private sector unionization. (Pro-labor scholars have questioned how much impact proposed rules from the NLRB, a body which lacked a quorum for some stretches of Obama’s presidency, will have on union efforts.) Meanwhile, said Norquist, Republican victories in the states offered a chance to “fix a lot of the abuses that we thought we’d have to live with” in the public sector. “Wisconsin,” Norquist later told the crowd, “is the model.”
Scott Walker’s 2011 “budget repair” law, passed amid a high-profile multi-week protest occupation of the state capitol, severely reduced the right of public employees to collectively bargain, effectively imposed public sector “Right to Work,” and required regular “re-certification” elections among employees on whether to retain their now-narrowed form of union recognition.
Panelist Luke Hilgemann, the current Americans for Prosperity COO who formerly led the Koch-backed group’s Wisconsin efforts, told the crowd that the 2011 victory “started back in 2007 on the shores of Lake Michigan,” at a meeting of fifteen intrepid activists who’d “had enough of government overreach,” including then-Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. Priebus, a former Wisconsin GOP head, credited the ability to pass Walker’s reforms in part to the party and Tea Party activists unifying well before the 2010 primary behind candidates that made voters “proud to wake up” and vote, like Ron Johnson, Paul Ryan, and Walker. Norquist shared that Walker, after deciding to do a hasty signing of the “budget repair” bill prior to the official event, in order to stave off attempts to sign union contracts before it became law, gave Norquist the pen he used to sign the bill.
Panelist Vincent Vernuccio, of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said that Walker’s success, and Indiana’s 2012 “Right to Work” law, helped make possible the subsequent passage of “Right to Work” in Michigan– a state Norquist said national “Right to Work” activists hadn’t had “on their hit list.” Vernuccio also credited that victory in the United Auto Workers’ stronghold to activists “working on Right to Work in Michigan for over twenty years”; the passage of prior “small reforms” that laid the groundwork; and overreach by unions whose failed 2012 collective bargaining constitutional amendment he said helped spur “Right to Work” despite GOP Governor Rick Synder’s previous claim the issue was “divisive.” (In contrast, unions point to pressure on Snyder, who had already signed other anti-union legislation, from top donors who’d helped fuel his victory.)
The Bradley Brothers: Key players long before Grover showed up
Sourcewatch: Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (LHBF), formerly known as the Allen-Bradley Foundation, was established in 1942, describing itself as “a private, independent grantmaking organization based in Milwaukee.” According to the foundation’s 1998 Annual Report and a 2011 report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation gives away more than $30 million per year. In November 2013, One Wisconsin Now and the Center for Media and Democracy reported that the Bradley Foundation had given over $500 million to conservative “public-policy experiments” since 2000.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “from 2001 to 2009, it [Bradley] doled out nearly as much money as the seven Koch and Scaife foundations combined.”
Harry Bradley was one of the original charter members of the far right-wing John Birch Society, along with another Birch Society board member, Fred Koch, the father of Koch Industries‘ billionaire brothers and owners, Charles and David Koch. “Bradley was also a keen supporter of the Manion Forum, whose followers believed that social spending in America was part of a secret Russian plot to bankrupt the United States,” Jane Mayer writes in Dark Money.
In the same book, Mayer details that, “The event that multiplied the Bradley Foundation’s assets by a factor of twenty almost overnight, transforming it into a major political force, was the 1985 business takeover in which Rockwell International, then America’s largest defense contractor, bought the Allen-Bradley company, a Milwaukee electronics manufacturer, for $1.65 billion in cash. The deal created an instant windfall for the Bradley family’s private foundation, which held a stake in the company. Its assets leaped from $14 million to some $290 million.
Bradley Foundation Brought Scott Walker to Power
Who’s Behind Scott Walker’s Rise to Power?
March 31, 2015 AT 2:50 PM
By John McCormick
When Wisconsin Democrats failed recently to block anti-union legislation supported by Gov. Scott Walker, one name kept coming up: the Bradley Foundation.
The Republican governor’s opponents wanted to know whether the Milwaukee group helped draft the bill or coached those who testified for it. Their suspicions were rooted in the fact that Michael Grebe, one of Walker’s closest advisers, leads the powerful yet mostly inconspicuous voice for American conservatism. Diane Hendricks, a billionaire roofing-supply executive who is Walker’s top individual donor, is on its board.
Bradley and Grebe were central to Walker’s rise to national prominence four years ago, when he rolled back the power of government unions. They’ll probably be equally key to his almost-certain presidential bid.
“Without the Bradley Foundation, there is no Scott Walker,” said Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson, whose district includes its headquarters.
With almost $1 billion in assets, the group has financed research and policy experiments concerning public vouchers for private schools, voter-identification requirements and collective-bargaining restrictions _ all issues Walker has championed. Bradley had ties to many who testified for the “Freedom to Work” law, which lets employees in union workplaces opt out of membership.
While the group has a lower profile than those of David and Charles Koch, the billionaires who’ve raised hundreds of millions for Republicans, including Walker, its aims are similar.
“They are kindred spirits,” Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the Washington-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, said of the Bradley Foundation and the Koch brothers.
One key distinction: The nonprofit foundation can’t directly engage in politics, while the Kochs can spend their wealth on campaigns however they like and enlist other donors. Bradley spends roughly double the national average of 12 percent of foundation dollars on policy and public affairs, Dorfman said.
“The Bradley Foundation has been one of the leading funders of the conservative movement,” he said. “They’ve supported think tanks and other organizations that have been very effective at moving a conservative policy agenda.”
For all of Bradley’s political involvement, most of its giving is directed toward charities, artistic and cultural institutions, and schools. It’s especially generous to entities in Milwaukee, including the Milwaukee Art Museum, theaters, Boy Scout troops and Little League teams.
To Larson, all that charitable work isn’t enough to mitigate actions he says harm his community. “If they weren’t here, I think our community would be a lot better off,” he said.
Walker, 47, isn’t the only likely Republican presidential candidate with ties to the outfit. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush won a $250,000 Bradley Prize in 2011, recognition that he said at the time left him “incredibly humbled.” Bush was picked because of his creation of a charter school and testing program and for efforts to “cut taxes every year of his tenure in office,” the foundation’s website says.
Still, Walker, who, along with Bush, leads in early polling about possible Republican candidates, has stronger ties to the foundation.
In 2009, Walker picked Grebe as campaign chairman. Less than a week after winning the governor’s office in November 2010, Walker dined at a Milwaukee restaurant with the foundation’s board and senior staff, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Grebe went on to lead Walker’s campaigns against a recall in 2012 and for re-election in 2014.
Before joining the foundation in 2002, Grebe was chairman and chief executive officer of one of the nation’s largest law firms, Foley & Lardner, and is a past president of the University of Wisconsin board of regents. He’s also a former general counsel to the Republican National Committee and RNC member for Wisconsin from 1984 to 2002.
The foundation paid him more than $518,000 in 2013, according to its most recent Internal Revenue Service disclosure.
Editor: This blog post is not intended to attribute all of Wisconsin’s oligarchy of power to one man, Scott Walker. Nor one particular “bad actor behind the scenes,” Grover Norquist.
It’s to get you thinking about what is the source of the oligarchs’ rise to power? What does plutocracy look like? How does it morph and shape-shift to always be years ahead of Us, The People as we struggle to establish even a slight toehold of democracy in Wisconsin, in the nation. Now that Scott Walker is temporarily out of office in Wisconsin, “progressive” people are celebrating.
Meanwhile, in the think-tanks and social-experiment labs of the Bradley Foundation, or Grover Norquist’s operations, the NEXT Scott Walker or Robin Vos or Scott Fitzgerald are being groomed up in the event those men are dislodged from political office.