History is constrained by a series of laws. Empires fall, productive forces become obsolete after society gets ready to outgrow them, inequalities destroy societies when they get too big, the environment turns against civilizations when it’s abused too much, and so on. These principles conflict with the ideology of the capitalist ruling class, especially in the imperialist countries. And this contradiction grows bigger as capitalism’s crises intensify. So the ruling class within these countries is engineering methods for waging a cognitive war against its internal population.
Reacting to the U.S. empire’s decline—both externally and internally
These methods must, in accordance with this trend of capital compensating for its own weaknesses, continuously increase in their subtlety and scope. The re-emergence of great-power competition during the last decade has provided a pretext for this intensification of the empire’s internal propaganda.
During the leadup to the Ukraine proxy war with Russia that Washington started in 2014, which has required an extensive effort to portray Ukraine’s belligerent fascist regime as the victim, the U.S. repealed a Cold War-era ban on domestic covert psychological operations. This has allowed for the CIA to secretly spread its disinformation throughout numerous media outlets. In 2016, after the start of the propaganda campaign about “Russian interference,” Obama passed a law which allows an agency called the Global Engagement Center to target domestic dissenting media. And in 2020, NATO added a new category of warfare to sea, air, land, and cyber: “human.” This means it now sees the battle for public sentiments as equaling the importance of these other categories.
Capitalism’s crises have prompted such an investment in propaganda. The contradictions that the bourgeois ideology needs to overcome are now greater than ever. This is because only in the 21st century, and most of all during the pandemic-era promise for a “great reset,” is capital’s idealized image so utopian. Big Tech has commodified unprecedented innovations in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other facets of the classic predictions about what “the future” will look like. In everything from medicine to education, tech monopolies and billionaires are presenting themselves as what can bring society out of the current calamity.
Since the high-tech sector is positioned to become the type of monopoly which will dominate capital in the 21st century, the “great reset” and its promise for a technological golden age are now the central rationales behind capitalism. The bright, hyperconnected future that technocrat capitalist institutions like the World Economic Forum are putting forth in their promotions of the reset is what the masses are supposed to latch onto, the positive space which fills the negative space in our cultural consciousness. But the hope it provides is utterly hollow, because it couldn’t be further removed from our conditions.
Throughout the pandemic, malnourished households in the U.S. have jumped from eleven to fifteen percent. During this last year’s eviction crisis, homelessness has increased for the fourth year in a row. Millions have lost their health coverage due to job losses, contributing to the USA’s still globally unsurpassed pandemic death toll. During future crises, our socioeconomic system will leave society even less prepared; the Pentagon predicts that if the country’s infrastructure isn’t updated after its decades of neglect under neoliberalism, the electrical grid will collapse under the climatic disasters of the next generation. The government lets the situation continue spiraling downwards, and towards this catastrophic scenario.
Neoliberalism is an engineered collapse of society in order to siphon wealth upwards, and the ruling class will never allow this collapse to end. The civilization that the tech monopolies oversee is one of perpetual instability, designed to repeat cycles of economic crashes and growing inequality. The ruling class has to keep intensifying inequality, because the impacts of profit decline and U.S. imperial collapse must be foisted onto the lower classes for the system to stay intact. The two trillion dollars U.S. billionaires have gained during the pandemic has made these trends more dramatic than ever. Under these conditions, the advertised techno-utopia is increasingly disconnected from reality for most.
Blunting revolutionary consciousness by vilifying existing socialism
Stalin wrote that “The development of consciousness is preceded by the development of the material side, the development of the external conditions: first the external conditions change, first the material side changes, and then consciousness, the ideal side, changes accordingly.” Naturally, since the current long depression began in 2008, Americans have started viewing socialism favorably at a rate of around forty percent. Which contrasts with socialism’s support rate of less than half of this during the more prosperous Cold War era.
Radicalization towards revolutionary consciousness is occurring among the masses, with the ideas about capitalism ushering in a technological utopia being isolated to the elites. When the only “hopeful” side of the ruling class ideology is so detached from the masses, this ideology can only maintain itself by instilling the masses with anti-communist war fever. By diverting people’s focus onto an external set of enemies, ones which represent a system that they’re told is even worse than what they live under.
The radicalization of the last decade or so has been impossible for the ruling class and its cognitive warfare agents to stop. But they have been able to blunt the growth of class consciousness, to render people’s concept of “socialism” detached from what socialism actually is. They’ve done this by normalizing a kind of anti-communism which differs from the traditional reactionary sentiment about communism blanketly being a bad thing. This type provides leeway for people to support “communism” as a vague concept, while portraying the actual projects towards communist development as not truly communist.
Ideally for the ruling class, everyone would have that simple reactionary hostility towards the very word “socialism.” But if someone identifies as a socialist, it’s preferable for them to still accept the propaganda about China committing genocide against the Uyghurs, north Korea being a monarchical dictatorship, Cuba oppressing its people, and Stalin having been a murderous dictator. And if someone identifies as a communist, it’s preferable for them to see the socialist countries as merely pretending to be socialist, as perversions of the true Marxist vision. Within the political factions that take these positions, standards for what constitutes “socialism” are perpetually raised so that the given socialist countries can be dismissed. And the contradictions within these countries get either exaggerated, or mixed in with false claims.
The equivalent applies to Venezuela, Syria, Nicaragua, Iran, Russia, Belarus, and any other given country the U.S. empire seeks regime change within; lies get accepted uncritically both by the rightists, and by the “leftists” who aren’t willing to break out of imperialist narratives. What’s unique about China, Cuba, the DPRK, Vietnam, Laos, and (in terms of historical interpretations) the USSR is that the reactionaries and the synthetic left have a special stake in vilifying them.
Marxism-Leninism’s successes represent an ideological threat to capitalism, showing that there’s an alternative to the neoliberal paradigm. They also represent a threat to the synthetic left’s idealistic and individualistic concepts about what social change should mean, showing that a state, a democratic centralist party, and an openness towards utilizing markets are instrumental in achieving the living standard increases which have occurred within all of the socialist countries—China most of all. So the synthetic left is eager to repeat the lies the reactionaries produce about these countries.
When sensationalistic websites claim that China’s president is a billionaire—even though no conclusive research has been done to determine his net worth—the rumor will be believed not just by the reactionaries who claim that communism produces inequality, but by the members of the synthetic left, who grasp onto any narrative which “exposes” China’s communist party as not truly communist. These misinformation campaigns can even be especially effective at persuading leftists, because leftists have already taken on an opposition towards capitalism and imperialism—and therefore can be made to passionately hate the Communist Party of China if they’re convinced that it’s capitalist and imperialist.
When the U.S. media claims China is “colonizing” Africa, this fits into the consciousness of those who know colonialism is bad, but who haven’t gained the education to discern when the term is abused. The same goes for narratives like the fictitious Uyghur genocide, which is portrayed as a “settler-colonial” atrocity by imperial center intellectuals.
It’s this infusion of anti-communism within the left, especially “left” academia, that lends a sense of untouchability to the CIA’s propaganda. The falsehoods put forth by Radio Free Asia, the paid north Korean and Uyghur defectors, regime change think tanks, south Korean tabloids, biased academics, “humanitarian” non-governmental organizations, and the CIA propaganda network’s other sources are put through filters which make them appear objective. These filters, whether liberal professors, activist personalities, or “left-wing” pundits, allow anti-communists from all parts of the ideological spectrum to not have to re-examine their faith in the propaganda.
The propaganda’s targeting of both the left and the right reduces the potential for anti-communist orthodoxy to be challenged. And if anyone speaks out against these narratives, their arguments can be rendered ineffective—at least when aimed at those who’ve already been fully absorbed by imperialism’s narratives. Opposing the claims of “human rights abuses” about Washington’s regime change target countries is met with moral outrage. The dissenters get labeled atrocity deniers, in addition to traitors, foreign agents, or derogatory concepts about what a communist is.
With how extreme these atrocity narratives are, it’s inevitable that the discourse has become so emotionally charged, with the defenders of the narratives believing they’re speaking on behalf of highly oppressed populations. Propaganda’s purpose is to make a population police itself. With the ingraining of these perceptions about communism, the CIA has achieved this goal, with NATO’s 2020 cognitive warfare report describing it in more direct terms: “to turn everyone into a weapon.”
All of these developments within our discourse have been carefully engineered. The stories about concentration camps, forced labor, and mass sterilizations within Xinjiang, sourced from highly insufficient studies which interview people whose stories are contradicted by their fellow Uyghurs within China, echo psychological operations from the CIA’s past. During the empire’s campaign to destroy the last bastion of socialism in Europe by breaking up Yugoslavia, CIA agents planted fake stories and carried out false flags in order to frame the Serbs. Through this disinformation effort, which was targeted towards Yugoslavians themselves even more than towards Americans, the CIA convinced many of the locals to celebrate NATO as a liberator.
Because the empire’s attempts to use atrocity stories to incite Xinjiang’s Uyghurs have failed to produce new terrorist attacks during the last several years, its propaganda campaign is being turned inwards. The CIA is using the myth of a Uyghur genocide to wage what amounts to a class-based psychological war against the USA’s own people. When the world’s largest workers state is seen by most Americans as genocidal, they can be swayed towards a visceral hostility against Marxist-Leninist theory and organizing. Even as their own conditions worsen, they can be influenced into becoming fanatical anti-communists—whether this takes the form of believing that communism itself is genocidal, or that communism has been hijacked by a fascist regime which is masquerading as communist. Either is sufficient for preemptively eliminating the potential for someone to become revolutionary.
Importing the propaganda & censorship tactics of U.S.-backed dictatorships
The material impacts of this cognitive warfare are both for more of the masses to behave apathetically by rejecting communist organizing, and for more of them to become radicalized towards participating in fascist paramilitarism. This is another impact that the CIA’s anti-communist propaganda has historically had abroad.
Following the coup the CIA orchestrated in Indonesia in 1965, the new military regime invented a story about the communists having brutally tortured the country’s generals during the effort to stop the coup. After banning all media which disputed this account, the military went into communities that had previously not been hostile towards communism, and successfully corralled them into assisting in a political mass killing campaign. In the coming months, hundreds of thousands died after being caught as members of the communist party, or after being suspected of holding pro-communist leanings. Ethnic minorities like the Chinese were also targeted in the genocide.
Washington then exported this model throughout Latin America, which had already been swinging in the direction of junta rule with the 1964 military coup. In Argentina, Chile, and the other neo-colonies that the CIA transformed into dictatorships, there emerged a set of myths to vilify communists, and variations of the Indonesian dictatorship’s call to destroy communism at the root. The CIA’s psychological operations were deeply involved in the creation of these myths and slogans, but they weren’t enough on their own. The propaganda of these regimes and their Washington backers had to be distributed amid intensive suppression of the opposition press.
As assessed by Ohio University’s Brad T. Eidahl, Chile’s dictatorship accomplished this even while allowing for an opposition press to technically exist:
In the coup’s immediate wake, journalists had their freedoms of speech and press restricted, and the regime required all new publications to secure permission in order to publish. Once approved, a publication would go through an initial stage where the regime employed a policy of prior censorship, which required the press to submit drafts of articles to the censorship office for approval. Later in the 1970s, the regime expected the press to practice self-censorship (autocensura) to control content. Under self-censorship, editors censored their own papers because they risked fines and imprisonment for printing information, including reports of human-rights violations, which the regime deemed slanderous or inflammatory. Within this otherwise repressive framework, Pinochet allowed for some opposition press outlets to function…
The U.S. has reached a point more similar to this than ever. McCarthyism has been brought back in the form of “Russiagate,” the narrative about Russian infiltration into the country. As the intelligence agencies have spuriously provided the basis for this claim, it’s been used to not just tighten censorship against anti-imperialist media, but stigmatize anti-imperialists in the popular imagination. Everyone within the core imperialist countries who challenges imperialist narratives is made out to be part of a grand conspiracy of foreign subversion. When those within the targeted countries themselves speak out against these narratives, they’re branded as bots, or judged to be pawns of the vilified governments.
Given the amount of censorship these labels have been used to justify, with media suppression going so far as to force some outlets to register as foreign agencies, it’s unsurprising that instances of self-censorship are easy to find within our institutions. After the 2018 propaganda campaign about Assad having supposedly committed a chemical attack, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons suppressed the findings of its own researchers out of desire to not contradict the U.S. government’s narrative about what happened in Syria.
This self-censorship scandal was revealed in 2019 by Wikileaks, but the revelation’s impact on the public consciousness was itself made to be limited; not just because of the routine online censorship of stories like this, but because Wikileaks has been made out to be a Russian propaganda tool. The ongoing incarceration and torture of its founder Julian Assange, who was imprisoned for exposing U.S. war crimes, has established a precedent for the consequences of genuine journalism. And just as under Pinochet, reports about these kinds of human rights violations are themselves classified as false—not because they can be debunked, but because the very act of talking about them is considered aiding a sinister conspiracy. Conversely, questioning the assertions about human rights abuses by Assad, Maduro, and other vilified leaders is considered reprehensible.
These narratives have become entrenched during the last decade, as social media has solidified its status as the hegemonic driver of consciousness. Language has been restructured to block the potential for anti-communist and imperialist narratives to be questioned, classifying all dissent against this propaganda as disinformation. As indicated by the intelligence statements that have listed U.S. inequality, corporate power, and corruption as rhetorical points in the supposed foreign subversion campaigns, this ingrained hostility towards dissent ultimately applies both to foreign and domestic affairs. When the intelligence centers and their tied media outlets warn against “foreign propaganda,” they’re demanding the citizenry adopt self-deception as a mental discipline. To view all information which contradicts the capitalist orthodoxy as suspect.
A militarized mass culture
It’s this war mentality that’s key to the survival of the worldview the ruling class promotes. Due to the deteriorating conditions of the masses, the masses can’t disbelieve in capitalism’s dysfunctionality and corruption. But if indoctrinated with the ideas that journalism exposing capitalism is foreign propaganda, and that the working alternative to capitalism is a “totalitarian” caricature of communism, they’ll compartmentalize these realities.
They’ll simultaneously recognize their conditions, while ignoring them when reality comes into conflict with the new cold war’s mindset. This mindset being that all must unite to defend against the opposing geopolitical bloc, or else this bloc will somehow make conditions in the imperial center even worse. There’s always the threat that unless you reject these foreign ideas, the foreigners will make your quality of life further diminished—whether this means through “destroying our democratic institutions,” or through bringing communist “totalitarianism” to the “free” United States.
During a stage of capitalism where Big Tech has become dominant—both in terms of monopoly capital and in terms of policing the flow of information—such a warlike mindset is natural for capital to cultivate. The high-tech sector has become deeply part of the military-industrial complex, providing the industrial base for the Pentagon’s military buildup against its rivals. The imperialist propaganda outlet the Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, who has Amazon make deals with the Pentagon. Google, which suppresses search results that link to anti-imperialist sources, is seeking further contracts with the Pentagon. Facebook, which is behind much of the censorship, is building its “metaverse” with a firm that also makes military contracts. Facebook has also partnered with a NATO-backed think tank in deciding which content to suppress, and has hired NATO’s press officer as its intelligence chief. During the new cold war, a revolving door of military officials has emerged both within the corporate media, and within the platforms now primarily used to distribute that media.
The product is a mass culture resembling that of an imperialist military base. The world is separated between an in-group and an other, dissent is suppressed through potentially torturous methods, and everyone is conditioned to blindly defer to authorities. The authorities being the intelligence centers and NATO, despite many of imperialist propaganda’s adherents believing their perceptions of the targeted countries don’t come from these sources. This militaristic societal model is presented as the only way to uphold “freedom.” Which seems paradoxical, but fits into the definition of freedom that bourgeois ideology puts forth. This is a definition that’s entirely focused around individualism—and that therefore accommodates both capitalist exploitation, and the synthetic left’s idealized vision for a revolution that’s free from “authoritarianism.”
What this produces is a society that’s deeply atomized, and that grows ever more atomized due to Big Tech profiting off of people’s socially isolated retreat into electronic hallucinations. Capital is commodifying the social ills it’s produced, selling the products in its “great reset” as the solutions to our crisis. This makes the mass consciousness emptier, and less able to unite behind a cohesive vision for what the future can look like. The ruling class has created a hole within our collective psyche. A hole it fills with hatred and lies.