Who actually subverts democracy?

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By Charles Pierce

March 22, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Since December 9 last year, when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) made its allegations to U.S. Congressional leaders, ranking politicians of both major parties have gone on a concerted rant against Russia for allegedly subverting American “democracy”. The specific allegations are: (1) that Russian state operatives hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC); (2) that Russia then used WikiLeaks as an intermediary to make public internal DNC emails which would embarrass the DNC and hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign; (3) that Russia’s objective was to help Donald Trump win the Presidency; and (4) that Russia’s intervention changed the outcome of the Presidential election. For reasons given below: (1) and (2) are possible but unproven, (3) is unlikely, and (4) is fantasy. 

Meanwhile, the major U.S. news media outlets have reported the story with a persistent evasion of highly relevant facts including the U.S. government’s many subversions of elections in other countries. 

What are the relevant facts?

First - Denials by Russia and by WikiLeaks that Russia was the source of the leaked emails, when mentioned at all, have been summarily dismissed. There undoubtedly were other hackers who would want to hack DNC emails. Moreover, U.S. intelligence agencies, having often succumbed to the ruling prejudices and political pressures, have a history of consequently drawing erroneous conclusions such as: that the Cuban populace would welcome the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion; that massive U.S. bombing in Vietnam had largely defeated the NLF and rendered it incapable of executing anything like the 1968 Tet offensive; that Iraq (after the 1991 Kuwait War) had retained its WMDs; that the 2011 ouster of Gaddafi would result in a stable pro-Western regime in Libya, etc. Moreover, the allegations of Russian hacking of the DNC appear to be based on suspicion, not actual proof. Nevertheless, given Hillary’s hostility toward Russia, Russia naturally preferred Trump over Hillary. But even if Russia was behind the leaks and/or other actions which embarrassed Hillary’s campaign, it is not only Trump and his supporters who are skeptical (and justifiably so) of the more far-reaching allegations of Russian influence on the 2016 election outcome. 

Second. The leaked DNC emails, which are at issue, reveal that DNC staffers acted to undermine Bernie Sanders’ campaign so as to deliver the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton. In the current clamor against Russia this fact has gone almost totally unmentioned. From a pro-democracy standpoint, one would expect that that exposure, whoever effected it, would be deemed a public service rather than a subversion of U.S. democracy. 

Third. Alarming as the policies of the Trump Presidency are, it is a fact that much of the Democratic electoral base, especially the working poor, increasingly do not vote. Why don’t they? For the past 40 years, whether it was the Democrats or the GOP in control of the government, economic conditions for most working-class Americans have stagnated or deteriorated. Moreover, many disenchanted working-class Obama voters voted for Trump. Democrat politicians and their hardcore partisans would prefer to blame Russian intervention (and/or other scapegoats – such as the FBI Director’s late-stage announcement of additional investigation into Hillary’s email fiasco), rather than their own disservice to their base constituencies, for Hillary’s loss. 

Fourth. Then there is the routine rigging of the election process – gerrymandering of districts (by both major parties), obstructions (by both major parties) to third party ballot access, and voter suppression policies. Voter suppression consists of: (1) voter ID requirements and other voting restrictions (currently pushed and/or defended mostly by the GOP), and (2) the disproportionate disfranchisement of racial minorities by a racist U.S. criminal justice system, mostly for having been convicted of non-violent drug offenses under the regime of mass incarcerations following enactment of Bill Clinton’s draconian 1994 Crime Bill. Although these practices undermine the fairness of elections, not only to the detriment of third parties and of the people, but also to the ultimate detriment of the Democrats, Democratic Party complicity naturally leads its leadership to evade aspects of the issue other than GOP-backed voter suppression measures.

Fifth. The chiefs of U.S. spy agencies are certainly not unbiased. Even when they do not have personal relationships with corporate agents of the war industries (Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman, E-Systems, Academi/Blackwater, etc.), they are deeply imbued with the imperial interventionist mindset which regards any country which refuses to align its policies with those of the Western alliances as a problem. When it is a major power – Russia or China – which resists the U.S.-dictated world order, this is automatically deemed to be a threat to the West. Meanwhile, military contractors and the politicians who eagerly take their campaign money naturally insist upon policies which produce the military tensions, confrontations, and bloody armed conflicts, which are then used to “justify” massive military spending. Moreover, the major news media outlets “patriotically” serve (consciously or unconsciously) as propaganda mouthpieces for U.S. foreign policies. Obama, Clinton, and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership, having joined the GOP establishment in embracing that same mindset, have commenced a new cold war against Russia. 

Now comes Trump proposing to end this new cold war. Obviously, those who are deeply invested in the current policy of hostility toward Russia have an incentive to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Trump’s election victory; and some undoubtedly hope to weaken his capacity to end said cold war. Opposition to cold war against nuclear-armed Russia is one of very few points on which the left should be in agreement with Trump (if and insofar as he actually moves to end the hostility).[1]

Sixth. Finally, there is the pretense, by U.S. politicians and by the major news media, that the U.S. must be an innocent victim, if ever foreign interference alters (or attempts to alter) the outcome of U.S. elections. This issue needs an examination all of its own. 

Interventions in foreign elections 

The U.S. and each of its major allies routinely intervene in the internal politics of other countries in order to influence public opinion and election outcomes. While Russia undoubtedly also does so where its interests are involved, the U.S. is unquestionably the major perpetrator of subversions of foreign elections. The U.S. government has a very long history of such interference in the elections in other countries and also of acting to overturn the outcomes whenever foreign electorates chose national leaderships which the U.S. deemed unacceptable. Some examples – nowhere near a complete list:

Italy, 1948 - When it appeared that a leftist coalition (of the Socialist and Communist parties) would win the 1948 parliamentary elections, the U.S. government, under President Truman, massively intervened with covert funding and with an intensive propaganda misinformation campaign to sway the election outcome to a victory for the center-right Christian Democratic Party.

Brazil, 1963-64 - When democratically-elected President João Goulart embraced a policy of moderate social reforms, accepted support from Brazilian Communists, and maintained normal relations with Communist states, the U.S., under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, decided to replace him. After massive covert U.S. intervention, a Brazilian media campaign and a rightwing-sponsored 1963 referendum on Presidential powers failed to strip Goulart of his authority to exercise the Presidential power; the U.S. (Dept of State, Dept of Defense, and CIA) instigated and abetted the 1964 military coup d’etat which then began 21 years of repressive military rule.

Chile, 1964-73 - The prospect of popular socialist Salvador Allende becoming President of Chile caused alarm in the U.S. capital. Under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, the CIA covertly spent many millions of dollars in three successive elections to prevent or end the Allende Presidency – 1964 (successfully), 1970 and 1973 (unsuccessfully). Unable to obtain its objectives by subverting Chilean elections, the U.S. then went to plan B – destabilization leading to a military coup d’etat (September 11, 1973), a process consisting of: (1) subversion of Chilean media with a massive CIA-funded anti-communist disinformation campaign to instill fear in the electorate; (2) draconian economic sanctions plus instigation of strikes and business shut-downs to sabotage the economy and cause severe shortages of basic consumer goods; (3) the U.S.-orchestrated assassination of anti-coup army chief General René Schneider; and (4) failed previous U.S.-instigated coup attempts in 1970 and 1973 June. 

Nicaragua, 1978-90 - In 1979 the U.S.-backed regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, whose dynasty had ruled Nicaragua thru their command of a (military) National Guard created by the U.S. Marines during their occupation of that country (1909-33), was ousted by a popular insurgency led by the leftist FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front]. When the Somoza regime was clearly on the verge of collapse (in July 1978), the CIA under President Carter had begun a (failed) covert intervention to create a non-leftist alternative to the insurgent FSLN, which would include the Somocista party in the new government and retain the corrupt Somocista state apparatus including the thuggish popularly-loathed National Guard. After the FSLN took power, the CIA (under Carter) began covert funding of a counterrevolutionary insurgency. Under President Reagan, the U.S. greatly expanded its support for this contra insurgency. When the Sandinista government held free competitive democratic elections in 1984, the U.S., doubting the opposition had enough support to win, attempted to delegitimize the contest by inducing opposition parties to boycott it. The U.S. persisted with economic sanctions, contra violence, and funding of Nicaraguan opposition groups until the U.S.-supported opposition parties finally defeated the FSLN in the 1990 election. 

Panama, 1989 - The U.S. had found its client regime under corrupt strongman Manuel Noriega to be insubordinate and unreliable. The U.S. first sought to remove him by covertly funding the winning candidacy of an opposition Presidential candidate. Noriega, however, rejected the result as tainted by U.S. subversion and imposed his own candidate instead. The U.S. then launched a bloody military invasion by a force of 25,000 U.S. combat soldiers (under President George H W Bush) which then crushed the 3,500-strong Panamanian Defense Force and imposed a compliant client regime. 

NED, from 1983 - Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has been the principal perpetrator of covert subversion and destabilization projects against foreign governments. Until the 1980s such operations were generally conducted clandestinely by the CIA. Governments overthrown thru CIA operations were frequently replaced by extremely repressive regimes which became notorious for torture and murder of huge numbers of dissidents. With revelations of CIA-supported coups against democratically elected governments and of the mass atrocities committed by the coup regimes, the CIA and its operations came into considerable disrepute even within the U.S. Rather than give up projects for the removal of uncompliant foreign governments, the U.S. Congress created (in 1983) the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to do (more or less) openly (but disguised as promotion of “democracy”) what the CIA had previously done covertly. The CIA continues to execute those projects which are deemed to require concealment of U.S. involvement, while NED operates as a purportedly private grant-making foundation even though the U.S. government provides virtually all of its funding. The pro-imperial and pro-capitalist leaderships of both major U.S. political parties, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and of the major U.S. labor confederation (AFL-CIO) actively collaborate in NED operations. While NED’s purported mission is the promotion of “democracy”, this is construed to mean: (1) support for opposition groups – media and civil society organizations – in countries with governments (including popularly-elected governments) which oppose U.S. foreign policy and the abuses perpetrated by transnational capital, and (2) provision of its funding and other assistance only to organizations which are pro-Western and supportive of private-enterprise capitalism. NED, which like the CIA operates throughout the world, has funded partisan media and “civil society” organizations for and against incumbent governments in scores of countries (including Ukraine). Meanwhile, the U.S. government offers no more than lip-service concern for the victims of repression by Western-backed client regimes (such as those in Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Haiti, Honduras, and so on).  

Regime change by other means 

Whenever political subversion is ineffective or not an option, violent regime change remains a tool routinely used by the U.S. against foreign governments which are not to its liking. Recent U.S.-instigated and/or abetted attempts (some successful, some not) to overthrow popularly-elected (mostly leftist) governments thru violent means include: Haiti (1991), Venezuela (2002), Haiti (2004), Bolivia (2006-08), Honduras (2009), Ecuador (2010), and Ukraine (2014). 

The U.S. government has manifested a profound indifference with respect to the massive human rights violations perpetrated by U.S.-backed coup regimes. Some examples: the U.S.-orchestrated 1954 coup in Guatemala began decades of repressive military rule with routine torture, horrendous atrocities, and some 140,000 to 200,000 killings mostly by government forces; when a U.S.-aided bloody military coup ousted anti-colonialist Iraqi President Abd al-Karim Qasim in 1963, the CIA promptly provided lists of suspected Communists and other leftists as the new regime commenced a campaign of detention, torture, and the summary killings of some 5,000; following the 1965 overthrow of Indonesia’s popular anti-colonialist strongman President Sukarno (after several failed previous attempts by the U.S. and Britain), the new regime systematically hunted and murdered some half million suspected supporters of the Communist Party (with the assistance of lists again eagerly provided by the CIA) and subjected a million others to detention, torture, and/or blacklisting; massive repression with thousands murdered also followed U.S.-supported coups against popularly-elected governments in Brazil (1964), Argentina (1976), Chile (1973), and other countries; U.S.-supported insurgencies against independent anti-colonialist governments in Afghanistan (1978..92), Libya (2011), and Syria (2012-17) have also caused immense popular suffering with huge death tolls.


Leading politicians in both major parties presume: that the U.S. should dominate the world; that the U.S. knows what is best for other countries and their peoples; that the U.S. must have the most powerful military; that concern for the well-being of other peoples must take second place to the pursuit of U.S. “national interests”; and so forth. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. government has portrayed its imperialist practice as a purported “democracy-promotion” mission, wherein it has consistently arrogated to itself the privilege of deciding for other countries which political parties should control their governments. The objectives: (1) to install and preserve governments which are generally subservient to U.S. geopolitical objectives; (2) to induce, wherever possible, every other country to embrace private enterprise capitalism; and (3) to make the world safe for the unimpeded pursuit of profit by transnational capital. The purported justification for such interference in the internal affairs of other countries – to bestow America’s superior “democratic values” upon other peoples who, when left to their own devices, often “choose wrongly” thereby failing to find their way to the (U.S. knows best) “democratic” ideal wherein it is assumed that there can be no “true democracy” without private enterprise and “free market” capitalism and (of course) deference to U.S. geopolitical objectives. Both major parties have been, and remain, equally culpable. Factional differences involve primarily unilateralism versus multilateralism and America-first-ism versus alliance-emphasis. 

What to do and not to do 

President Trump has blatantly pandered to bigotry (racist, religious, misogynist, etc.), and he clearly is no friend to the environment, to working people, or to other social justice causes. Obviously, the left and progressive movements must and will oppose his many anti-social policies. In that regard the left is united. 

However, when it comes to the Democratic Party, there is a very widespread lack of clarity. The essential facts follow. (1) The overwhelming majority (though not all) of Democratic Party leaders and central government office-holders actively and vociferously embrace the essentials of the basically bi-partisan U.S. foreign policy with a hypocritical disregard for its social injustices and human rights violations. (2) This policy includes: hostility toward popularly-elected leftist governments (such as in Venezuela), support for repressive client regimes (including misogynist and religiously intolerant Saudi Arabia now conducting a massive bombing of neighboring Yemen); massive funding and abetting of the Zionist state (with its ethnic cleansing and other racist oppressions of the Palestinian and other Arabs); military threats, anti-people sanctions, and other abuses against countries (Iran, Russia, China, etc.) which refuse to submit to Western dictates; and so forth. (3) Millions of people have been killed as a result of imperial U.S. interventions, and millions more have suffered often-horrendous persecutions at the hands of U.S. client regimes. (4) Meanwhile, that part of the left-progressive movement which has tied itself to the Democratic Party (either out of ignorance with respect to foreign policy, or from deliberate avoidance of foreign-policy issues in hopes of obtaining gains on domestic objectives) consistently supports these imperial Democrat politicians in every general election. 

While electoral activity within the Democratic Party is certainly useful in some cases, for proponents of social justice the general embrace of the Democratic Party has been a very poor bargain. Why? While centrist Democrat politicians give lip-service and/or token support for most progressive causes on the domestic fron, aside from enhancing opportunities for relatively privileged women and racial minorities of the middle classes, conditions for most of the working class (including its racial minorities) have actually stagnated or worsened. Witness growing inequality, a racist (and often murderous) criminal justice system including mass incarceration, organized Labor routinely under attack and in steady decline, many communities perpetually underserved and impoverished, evisceration and/or non-enforcement of regulatory and civil-rights reforms which were conceded in response to mass protest in the past, etc. 

In order to make real and lasting progress toward ending the social evils of capitalism, activists must build a popular revolutionary social justice movement to expose and oppose those evils in all spheres – economic and environmental, human rights and civil liberties, and international as well as domestic. Neglecting to fight gender, racial, and religious oppressions in hope of achieving economic gains (living wage, collective bargaining, universal healthcare, affordable housing, etc.) would be both unprincipled and ultimately self-defeating as it would abandon needed allies, perpetuate division, and destroy the basis for trust. Many activists recognize that this and its reverse are equally true. So too is neglecting the fight for social justice for the foreign victims of transnational capital and Western imperialism. Silence concerning the connivance of one’s endorsed politicians in the oppressions of foreign peoples leaves the working-class electorate under the influence of its exploiters, and constitutes a major obstacle to popular embrace of the cause of social justice. As Martin Luther King Jr observed “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. The struggle for social justice is indivisible. 


[1] It is relevant to note the following, which is rarely or never acknowledged by the major U.S. news media: 

a) In order to obtain needed Soviet agreement (in 1990) to the reunification of Germany, the U.S. promised that NATO would not expand into former Warsaw Pact countries. Soon after, when the collapse of the USSR left Russia weak and vulnerable, the U.S. disregarded its promise and began expanding NATO eastward to the very borders of Russia; and Russia, quite reasonably, sees this as a threat to its security. 

b) The U.S. (thru NED and CIA) has funded pro-Western, anti-Russian groups in Ukraine in hopes of bringing it into the EU and NATO, thereby fueling intense ethnic and partisan conflict within the Ukrainian populace. Further, the U.S. supported the illegal 2014 ouster of Ukraine’s democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych (in response to his rebuff of Western appeals to align Ukraine with the West). Ukrainian factions which spearheaded this ouster include the violent neo-Nazi Right Sector paramilitary organization and the allied neo-Nazi Svoboda Party. 

c) The U.S. justifies this new cold war by branding the secession of Crimea from Ukraine and its subsequent re-unification with Russia, in defiance of the will of the U.S.-supported regime in Ukraine, as a Russian aggression in violation of international law. However, the U.S. exhibited a complete disregard for such purported international law when it intervened in Serbia with armed force to separate Kosovo (with the approval of its ethnic Albanian majority) from that country in defiance of the will of the Serbian government. Hence, a hypocritical double standard. Moreover, Crimea had been transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 by Soviet Party boss Khrushchev (who favored Ukraine evidently on account of his personal history there) without the consent of Crimea’s predominantly ethnic Russian population; and most of the Crimean population welcomed their 2014 reunification with Russia.  

d) Russian actions, which the U.S. government has branded as aggressions, are reasonably regarded by Russia as wholly defensive measures – in response to Western moves to further expand NATO to the borders of Russia, and to NATO deployments of new anti-missile systems and conventional forces in central and eastern Europe. Russia, for both economic and security reasons, would much prefer to have friendly relations with the West. 

e) In order to maintain its hegemony over most of the world, the U.S. spends vastly more on its military machine than any other country. In 2012 (according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) U.S. military spending ($687,400,000,000) was more than the combined total ($653,100,000,000) for the next 10 largest military spenders (China, Russia, Britain, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil).