Rethinking Camelot Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Introduction: Contours and Context Segment 8/17
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4. The Kremlin Conspiracy

In no small measure, the Cold War itself can be understood as a phase of the "North-South confrontation," so unusual in scale that it took on a life of its own, but grounded in the familiar logic.

Eastern Europe was the original "Third World," diverging from the West along a fault line running through Germany even before the Columbian era, the West beginning to develop, the East becoming its service area. By the early 20th century, much of the region was a quasi-colonial dependency of the West. The Bolshevik takeover in 1917 was immediately recognized to be "ultranationalist," hence unacceptable. Furthermore, it was a "virus," with substantial appeal in the Third World.

The Western invasion of the Soviet Union was therefore justified in defense against "the Revolution's the very survival of the capitalist order," the leading diplomatic historian John Lewis Gaddis comments today, reiterating the basic position of US diplomacy of the 1920s: "The fundamental obstacle" to recognition of the USSR, the chief of the Eastern European Division of the State Department held, "is the world revolutionary aims and practices of the rulers of that country." These "practices," of course, did not involve literal aggression; rather, interfering with Western designs, which is tantamount to aggression. The Kremlin conspiracy to take over the world was therefore established, a record replayed in later years as other ultranationalists and viruses were assigned to the category of "Soviet expansion."

The industrial West was also thought to be susceptible to the plague. The Bolsheviks sought to make the "ignorant and incapable mass of humanity dominant in the earth," Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of State Robert Lansing warned. They were appealing "to the proletariat of all countries, to the ignorant and mentally deficient, who by their numbers are urged to become masters, ...a very real danger in view of the process of social unrest throughout the world." When soldiers' and workers' councils made a brief appearance in Germany, Wilson feared that they would inspire dangerous thoughts among "the American negro [soldiers] returning from abroad." Already, he had heard, negro laundresses were demanding more than the going wage, saying that "money is as much mine as it is yours." Businessmen might have to adjust to having workers on their boards of directors, he feared, among other disasters, if the Bolshevik virus were not exterminated.

It was therefore necessary to defend the West from "the Revolution's challenge" at home as well. As Lansing explained, force must be used to prevent "the leaders of Bolshevism and anarchy" from proceeding to "organize or preach against government in the United States." The repression launched by the Wilson Administration successfully undermined democratic politics, unions, freedom of the press, and independent thought, safeguarding business interests and their control over state power. The story was re-enacted after World War II, again under the pretext of the Kremlin conspiracy.

According to the official version, it was Soviet crimes that aroused Western antagonism. In his scholarly history of Soviet-American relations, George Kennan writes that the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918 created the breach with the Western world with "an element of finality." British Ambassador to Petrograd Sir George Buchanan was "deeply shocked," Kennan writes, and advocated armed intervention to punish the crime. The idealistic Woodrow Wilson was particularly distraught, reflecting the "strong attachment to constitutionality" of the American public, deeply offended by the sight of a government with no mandate beyond "the bayonets of the Red Guard."19

A few months later, Wilson's army dissolved the National Assembly in occupied Haiti "by genuinely Marine Corps methods," in the words of Marine commander Major Smedley Butler. The reason was that the Haitian legislature refused to ratify a Constitution imposed by the invaders that gave them the right to buy up Haiti's lands. A Marine-run plebiscite remedied the problem: under Washington's guns, the US-designed Constitution was ratified by a mere 99.9 percent majority, with 5 percent of the population participating. Wilson's "strong attachment to constitutionality" was unmoved by the sight of a government with no mandate beyond "the bayonets of the Marine occupiers"; nor Kennan's. Quite the contrary. To this day the events figure in the amusing reconstructions entitled "history" as an illustration of US "humanitarian intervention," and its difficulties (for us). Gone from "history" along with this episode is the restoration of virtual slavery, Marine Corps massacres and terror, the dismantling of the constitutional system, and the takeover of Haiti by US corporations, much as in the neighboring Dominican Republic, where Wilson's invading armies were only a shade less destructive, perhaps because their racist barbarism did not reach such extreme levels when confronting "spics" instead of "niggers."

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19 Kennan, Russia, 35263.