Unmasking myths: “Capitalism and economic freedom are inseparable from political freedom”

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From our archives: # 3 in our series about capitalist propaganda

(NOTE: First published April 1982; unfortunately nothing much has changed in the way the media handle this fraudulent formulation. Presented as a debating points memo to OWS activists as they confront status quo defenders in various forums.)

“Capitalism and economic freedom are inseparable from political freedom and democracy, indeed their historical guarantors.”


Argentine families do not forget. The banner—in the nation’s colors—reads: “Popular Center for [National] Memory.  Former Center for the Clandestine Detention, Torture and Disappearance of Persons. 1976—1979.”  The building was used by the police and military during the appropriately named “Dirty War”, in which tens of thousands were arrested and disappeared. Many were simply dropped in the ocean from helicopters. The US government played a big role in training and supporting the criminals who carried out this massive repression.

By Patrice Greanville

“Capitalism and economic freedom are inseparable from political freedom and democracy, indeed their historical guarantors.” This claim, so readily bandied about by the media and capitalism’s apologists, can be easily shown to be a sham. First, as the tragic situation in the Third World illustrates, American-style “free enterprise” simply thrives in lands where democracy and the most elementary human and labor rights have been ruthlessly stamped out. In fact, country after country where human rights have been brutally liquidated, private investment is on the rise, and so is the support of the American government.

The murderous repression of labor leaders, peasants, students, priests and anyone foolhardy enough to speak for the disenfranchised appears to be necessary to “improve the investment climate,” as it is clinically put by our diplomats, journalists and peripatetic businessmen. (In our own hemisphere, the latest case is that of Honduras.—Eds). But what is the reality admitted even in the American media? On 7 December 1979, Juan de Onis, the New York Times correspondent in Buenos Aires filed the following report under this headline:

ARGENTINE POLICIES PLEASE U.S. BUSINESS.
Regime, Under Fire for Repression, Is Acclaimed by Chamber of Commerce
for Restoring Law and Order.”

The piece, a rare occurrence in the Times, goes on to explain that “(A)s in Iran under the Shah, American business generally supports the authoritarian military regime in Argentina, which has violently repressed leftists and welcomed foreign investors.”

Glossing over the thorny question of why Argentina’s conditions give rise to civilian sectors desperate enough to back up armed insurrection against the Army, a nearly suicidal choice in almost any country, de Onis proceeds to inform the reader that “David Rockefeller, the banker, visited Argentina recently to give his support to the program of the Minister of the Economy, Jose Alfredo Martinez de Hoz.” In the closing paragraphs we find that “United States investors are not deterred by the controversy (sic) over human rights. The Chamber of Commerce, led by Arthur Perry, a mining promoter, and Stanley Brons, a lawyer specializing in investment law, has conducted a campaign designed to emphasize achievements in law and order by the  military regime, which crushed an armed subversive movement of left-wing Peronists and Marxists.

In the Chamber’s view, publicity given to tens of thousands of cases of people who disappeared after being arrested or kidnapped by security forces is part of an international campaign to weaken a Government that is doing what they believe is “best for Argentina.”  We have used italics to underscore the totally unsympathetic and incompassionate manner in which de Onis describes the military’s victims. Is it an accident that he touches several bases likely to elicit a negative reaction in the thoroughly conditioned American reader? “Subversive,” “Left-wing,” “Marxist,” “armed (insurrection)” — these are not exactly endearing terms in the American lexicon.

When reinforced by a total lack of historical context, as it happens in this piece, the effect can only be to lead the reader to unwarranted assumptions. Here, the probable thought is: “They (the guerrillas) just got what they deserved.” This doesn’t hurt the image of the Argentinian junta, but it is a complete falsification and oversimplification of the hard Argentinian struggle. But what happened to the vaunted “inseparability” of economic freedom and political freedom? The fact is it never existed.

“Economic freedom” has been sold in the U.S. as “inseparable from” and “indispensable to” political freedom and democracy because in that manner big business can better protect itself from the people. “Economic freedom” is merely a felicitous euphemism of modern coinage for the market freedom of entrepreneurs, speculators and big property owners to do as they please, while the state piously withdraws to the minimalist function of “maintaining order, protecting private property, and enforcing contracts, which is quite fine as far as the “haves” are concerned. “Economic freedom” and “political freedom” — at least in the historical epoch of late capitalism — are neither inseparable nor indispensable to each other. Indeed, left to their own devices, they tend to move in profoundly antithetical directions. Real political and economic democracy represents a threat to concentrated economic and political power; the interests of the average working citizen simply do not jibe with those of the average oligarch. And no amount of propaganda can deny that basic truth.

Patrice Greanville is editor in chief of The Greanville Post.

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