R.I.P. Lyndon LaRouche
Lyndon LaRouche died on February 12, 2019 at the age of 96. In the week that followed, a frantic series of Fake News retrospectives ushered forth from the most venerable oligarchic press outlets. Many of these stories were derived from the Wikipedia bio of LaRouche, a compendium of fantasy libels going back 50 years and lovingly preserved and curated by Wikipedia’s neocon ruling elite.
Seeing this fresh outpouring of establishment rage brought back many memories for me from the 1970s and 1980s, when most of these stories were concocted. Today’s political activists who are indignant about the way the DNC disenfranchised Bernie Sanders voters, or at the calumnies being directed at proponents of Palestinian rights such as Jeremy Corbyn or Rep. Ilhan Omar, or the casual arrogance with which the corporate media repeat the latest laughable State Department talking points to manufacture consent for the latest war, should know that these tactics were refined decades earlier in a desperate attempt to suppress the ideas of LaRouche, a man who may have been unknown to many younger people until the recent eruption of obituary vitriol.
Noam Chomsky once wrote,
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
LaRouche made a career of developing interesting and productive ideas outside that limited spectrum. He was a highly intelligent eccentric, who attracted a movement of similar highly intelligent eccentrics, mainly recruited from the anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s, before the powers that be could find ways to shoehorn those activists into simplistic, rigidly defined factions within that spectrum of acceptable opinion.
Throughout his life he read voraciously in all fields of human activity. He was the first intellectual to emerge since Gottfried Leibniz to systematically explore philosophy, the physical sciences, the arts and aesthetics, history and politics, and synthesize a coherent overview that brought these disparate fields into a unified focus.
He viewed himself primarily as an economist, not because he analyzed monetary flows (an activity which resembles astrology in its scientific rigor), but because he studied Man’s intervention into Nature, which for him was the basis for what he called physical economy. He criticized both the Marxists and the Laissez-Faire advocates for operating from the same flawed axioms — a good example of thinking outside the “spectrum of acceptable opinion.”
A leading Keynesian economist, professor Abba Lerner, was chosen by the establishment as their champion to debate LaRouche on December 2, 1971 at Queens College in New York City. This did not go well. Lerner defended Nixon’s austerity policies, as establishment representatives are wont to do; LaRouche countered by saying that this approach was a rehash of what was done in the 1930s under fascism, until the hapless Lerner insisted, “But if Germany had accepted Schacht’s policies, Hitler would not have been necessary.”
It didn’t take long for the alarms to sound within the citadels of the oligarchs. The FBI was deployed to do what it does (it used to be called COINTELPRO); thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we have a few glimpses into their activity, such as whispering in the ears of the Communist Party USA leaders, suggesting that the “elimination” of LaRouche would be in their interests. A few years earlier, the FBI might have simply done the job itself, as they did in the case of Fred Hampton. But they were under growing scrutiny and needed a bit of “plausible deniability”. If an actual assassination by G-men were to be carried out, the blowback in public opinion could have been problematic.
Since debating LaRouche’s ideas had flopped, and a physical assassination was deemed too risky, the best course of action was determined to be character assassination. A task force was assembled which included media figures and individuals from the “national security community.” The demand for defamatory material about LaRouche was growing to the extent that some individuals such as Chip Berlet and Dennis King made it into a profession (for which they were handsomely compensated.)
In order to avoid a debate over LaRouche’s ideas, the “straw man” tactic became standard: invent an opinion which LaRouche does not hold, and then attack him for that opinion. With a few cherry-picked and out-of-context quotes, this became grist for the propaganda mill.
LaRouche was vulnerable to these sorts of attacks, for the simple reason that his writings were highly idiosyncratic and difficult to understand. This is actually characteristic of original and creative thinkers; new concepts don’t always translate well into the language of the old concepts. There were a growing number of persons who had the persistence to wade through LaRouche’s hefty and occasionally abstruse essays, but a skilled bullshit artist could misrepresent them to people with short attention spans.
Sometimes a less-skilled opponent of LaRouche would stumble; I recall watching an early TV attack piece by Geraldo Rivera in 1979, where he interviewed an Air Force general who had had some contact with the LaRouche organization. He called them “the biggest bunch of anti-Semitic Jews I have ever met.” He was partially correct — the leadership of LaRouche’s movement was largely Jewish.
By the mid-1980s, the cavalcade of disingenuous media attacks on LaRouche was reaching a fever pitch, but LaRouche and his intrepid colleagues had managed nonetheless to put his ideas into worldwide circulation. LaRouche met with leaders of emerging nations, such as Mexican President José López Portillo and Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was proposing ways to outflank the loan-sharking approach of the International Monetary fund and to finance infrastructural and industrial projects that would enable these nations to become self-sufficient and free at last from the pernicious machinery of neo-colonialism.
LaRouche also learned how to exploit US election law to get his message out. He ran for President, first as a third party candidate in 1976, then in subsequent elections as a Democrat during the primary races. If he didn’t like the Democratic nominee, he sometimes ran as an independent in the general election. His industrious supporters raised enough money to qualify him for federal matching funds, and in those days, election law required TV networks to sell qualified candidates prime-time paid political announcements. During election years, American viewers were often exposed to 30 minute broadcasts from LaRouche. In 1984, he averaged more than one per month.
He also won delegates in the primaries. In 2000, to prevent a LaRouche presence at the national convention, the DNC simply confiscated the delegates that LaRouche had won in Arkansas, and awarded them to Al Gore. They successfully argued in court that the Democratic Party was a private club, like a country club, and could simply make a rule that LaRouche was not allowed to join. This “private club” argument had previously been used to block the candidacies of African-American Democrats in the American South, and had given rise to the Voting Rights Act. It is essentially the argument that was used to justify the dirty tricks against the Bernie Sanders campaigns in 2016 and 2020.
Needless to say, LaRouche’s presence on national TV made it more difficult to suppress or misrepresent his ideas. So, the government/private sector task force began to concentrate its efforts on creating an atmosphere of suspicion in which LaRouche could be railroaded into prison, which, it was hoped, would cause his movement to collapse. Conferences were held where state Attorneys General from around the US were exhorted to investigate LaRouche in hopes of finding a plausible basis for indicting him. Dramatic events were staged; those Trump aficionados who were shocked by the pre-dawn raid on Roger Stone’s home by heavily armed FBI personnel should have been in Leesburg, Virginia at 7 AM on October 6, 1986, when 400 FBI and other federal agents with helicopters and armored personnel carriers descended upon that bucolic community in order to serve search warrants.
The members of the LaRouche movement had fought back tenaciously for almost two decades. They had filed defamation suits, Freedom of Information Act requests, and conducted some remarkable sleuthing into the agencies which were attacking them, but they were no match for the full weight of the US political establishment and its corporate press.
A first attempt at a trial of LaRouche and several associates turned into a major embarrassment for the government, with an astonishing array of prosecutorial misconduct coming to light. So, the government quickly set up a second trial with the charges altered just enough to avoid double jeopardy, and on December 16, 1988, LaRouche and several of his associates were convicted on a variety of arcane conspiracy charges. Evidence of prosecutorial misconduct was simply ruled inadmissible by the judge. LaRouche received a 15 year sentence, with others receiving sentences as long as 77 years.
LaRouche’s lawyer on appeal was former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who had become an authority on political trials. He wrote in an open letter to then-Attorney General Janet Reno:
I bring this matter to you directly, because I believe it involves a broader range of deliberate and systematic misconduct and abuse of power over a longer period of time in an effort to destroy a political movement and leader, than any other federal prosecution in my time or to my knowledge.
LaRouche served 5 years of his sentence; while in prison, he ran for president again. Bill Clinton became President, and according to LaRouche, it was Clinton’s intervention which caused him to be granted parole (the prosecution had earlier argued that LaRouche should never be paroled because of the extraordinary danger he would pose to the community.) Full-page advertisements for his exoneration appeared in papers such as the Washington Post, signed by hundreds of elected officials, trade union leaders, religious figures, and others from around the planet, including a number of heads of state.
LaRouche returned to political life, even running for president again. It could be argued, however, that he failed to change the course of US politics. It must have hurt him to watch the dismantling of the regulatory edifice developed during the FDR years, and the shutdown of infrastructure projects and NASA’s manned space programs. Meanwhile the Wall Street bailouts and neocon “Regime Change” wars which he detested continued apace.
However, from where I sit, LaRouche has won. While he was in prison, the Soviet Union collapsed. From his jail cell, he managed to communicate with Russian intellectuals, warning them against the so-called “Shock Therapy” of radical privatizations that was being demanded by Bush and Thatcher, and urging them to follow the model of Franklin Roosevelt’s policies. His ideas on economics were widely studied and discussed. When LaRouche was released from prison, he was invited several times to Russia to address the Russian Academy of Sciences and to receive various awards, as well as to Brazil and other nations.
Perhaps of greater significance is the degree to which LaRouche’s ideas have been embraced by China. At the point where China began to turn away from the depravity of the Cultural Revolution and began to search for an alternative approach, LaRouche’s ideas began to circulate in China, and today, the Belt and Road Initiative of President Xi Jinping incorporates almost every policy that LaRouche had proposed for China, including the emphasis on frontier areas of science, strict banking regulation, stupendous infrastructure plans, and public education that promotes the fine arts to develop the cognitive powers of young people.
Not only are the Chinese successfully adopting these policies themselves, but they are exporting them to the rest of the world. LaRouche’s dream of liberating Africa and South America from colonialism may now become a reality, as China becomes strong enough to offer those nations an alternative to the “Washington Consensus.”
LaRouche’s neocon opponents are getting increasingly desperate and reckless, and may resort to much larger and more devastating wars in an attempt to preserve their dream of an Anglo-American “unipolar world.” But I’m betting on LaRouche to have the last laugh.