Workers Vanguard No. 930

13 February 2009


Milton Friedman—Braintruster of Bloody Pinochet Dictatorship

University of Chicago Honors Capitalist Pig, Again

(Young Spartacus pages)

We reprint below a Chicago Spartacus Youth Club leaflet as reissued February 7. The leaflet was distributed at a January 29 event featuring Naomi Klein at Loyola University as well as at the University of Chicago.

CHICAGO—After right-wing “free market” economist and longtime University of Chicago professor Milton Friedman dropped dead in 2006, it did not take long for the U of C administration to spark a minor firestorm on campus by proposing to name an economic research institute in his honor. In the 1970s Friedman and his “Chicago Boys” notoriously served as economic advisers to the bloody CIA-backed Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet that massacred 30,000 workers, peasants and leftists and imprisoned and tortured thousands more. Last year, in response to the U of C proposal to launch a Milton Friedman Institute, faculty formed the Committee for Open Research on Economy and Society (CORES), which initiated an online petition against the Institute and held a number of well-attended campus events. Over 100 professors signed a letter of protest to the administration, and the full Faculty Senate convened for the first time in a decade to debate the proposal.

It is truly an affront to working people and the oppressed around the planet that the University would attempt to honor the legacy of this man. It would be utopian to think that bourgeois universities would not name buildings in honor of sundry capitalist moguls and their academic mouthpieces. But Friedman was not simply a reactionary ideologue; his hands were drenched in the blood of the Chilean masses. In 1975, the New York Times accurately labeled him “the guiding light of the junta’s economic policy” (21 September 1975). The CIA funded a 300-page Friedmanite blueprint given to the leaders of the junta in preparation for the coup. In March 1975 Friedman himself, accompanied by his U of C cohort Arnold Harberger, flew to Chile for high-level talks with the regime to outline the economic “shock treatment” that led to the mass starvation of those who had survived the initial phase of bloodletting.

After the 1973 Pinochet coup, our forebears in the Spartacus Youth League launched a campaign at U of C to drive Friedman and Harberger off campus through protest and exposure. In order to mobilize the broadest forces possible the SYL initiated the Committee Against Friedman-Harberger Collaboration with the Chilean Junta. Based on the slogans “Protest Friedman and Harberger: Collaborators with the Bloody Chilean Junta!” and “Free All Victims of the Junta’s Repression!” the Committee held a teach-in on Chile and mobilized several demonstrations at U of C and other campuses that Friedman visited, drawing support from a variety of groups and individuals who opposed the Chilean junta.

In its opposition to the Friedman Institute today, CORES argues primarily on the basis of maintaining the University’s “impartiality,” complaining that the “naming [of] such a major institute after Friedman is a symbolic endorsement of his views by the University.” The University was able to soften faculty opposition simply by “changing” the name from the “Milton Friedman Institute” to the “Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics” in order to “make clear that it is solely an economics research institute.”

For Marxists, it is no contradiction that the U of C seeks to enshrine Friedman’s bloody legacy. Under capitalism, universities are not simply institutions for research and higher learning, but serve fundamentally to preserve and promote the bourgeois order. Founded by oil baron John D. Rockefeller, U of C serves as a training ground for the next generation of capitalist politicians and bureaucrats, business managers, corporate lawyers, and other servants of the property-owning class. Its Board of Trustees is a den of investment bankers and Fortune 500 execs. As with its decades-long association with Friedman, the University brags about hosting the 1942 Manhattan Project experiments that led to the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U of C has long been a bulwark against the black population of the surrounding South Side ghettos, with a private army of campus cops riding roughshod over black residents as well as black students, such as grad student Clemmie Carthans, beaten by the cops after they saw him hugging a white female student (see “Protest Racist Cop Terror at the University of Chicago,” Workers Vanguard No. 821, 5 March 2004).

The Spartacus Youth Clubs fight for the maximum access to academe and the broadest democratic rights within its groves, and we seek to obstruct the universities from being direct instruments of class rule and class discrimination. We call for the opening of the U of C to the surrounding black neighborhood as part of our fight for free, quality education for all. Nationalize the University! For open admissions, no tuition and a state-paid living stipend for all students! For the universities to genuinely serve the interests of those who work and study there, the campus administrations should be abolished—for student, worker, teacher control! Ultimately, for the campuses to function as true communities of learning will require the overthrow of capitalism.

On October 1, rad-lib journalist Naomi Klein gave a well-attended lecture against the Friedman Institute plan, sponsored by CORES, along with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Platypus group. Ever since her first book, No Logo, was published on the heels of the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization, Klein has been a darling of the “anti-globalization” milieu. Her latest book, The Shock Doctrine (2007), gives many examples of how the Friedmanite pauperization of the Chilean masses became a model for brutal anti-labor austerity policies in the past three decades. But at bottom Klein is a stone-cold liberal, who makes it abundantly clear that she has no fundamental objection to capitalism. For all her fight-the-Man posturing, Klein’s bottom line at the U of C was to promote capitalist politician Barack Obama’s campaign to be Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism, absurdly claiming that the election posed a “referendum on Friedmanism.” Since Obama’s election, Klein has heaped praise on the “remarkable grassroots movement that carried him to victory,” calling for this “movement” to keep up the pressure by “loudly holding Obama to his campaign promises, and letting the Democrats know that there will be consequences for betrayal” (“Real Change Depends on Stopping the Bailout Profiteers,” Huffington Post, 4 November 2008).

Obama’s election was a victory for the bourgeoisie, which hopes he will give a facelift to U.S. imperialism and carry out their interests more effectively than Bush did. All the capitalist parties—Democrat, Republican and Green—are enemies of working people and the oppressed. A comrade of the SYC intervened in the discussion against Klein’s support to the bourgeois candidate Obama, making a splash that was reported in the campus paper. “Oddly, Klein’s most outspoken critic fell to her left,” wrote the Chicago Maroon (3 October 2008). “A student who said he was with ‘a Trotskyist group on campus’ shouted into the microphone that Klein ‘completely let the Democrats off the hook’ and called for ‘a socialist revolution.’ The comments drew cheers and jeers from the audience, including a shout of ‘It doesn’t work, buddy!’”

Indeed, what Klein, SDS and Platypus, along with the reformist left internationally, share in common is that they accept the bourgeois lie of the “death of communism.” Viewing the Soviet Union as, at best, a failed experiment which proved that workers revolution “doesn’t work,” they are left with no choice but to fight for some form of repackaging the capitalist system. Klein is explicit in advocating a kinder, gentler capitalist welfare state:

“It is eminently possible to have a market-based economy that requires no such brutality and demands no such ideological purity. A free market in consumer products can coexist with free public health care, with public schools, with a large segment of the economy—like a national oil company—held in state hands. It’s equally possible to require corporations to pay decent wages, to respect the right of workers to form unions, and for governments to tax and redistribute wealth so that the sharp inequalities that mark the corporatist state are reduced.”

Klein’s vision of the capitalist economy without violence is sheer fantasy! Without the exploitation of labor, there simply is no capitalist profit. This leads to continuous attacks on the working class to drive down wages and benefits, while speeding up work hours. Backing up the bourgeoisie is the capitalist state, which is a system of violence—armed bodies of men such as the army, cops, courts and prisons—that exists to protect the bosses’ profits and defend their rule. There is no way to get rid of the war, oppression and exploitation that are endemic to the capitalist profit system without overturning capitalist property, smashing the capitalist state and establishing workers rule. Short of socialist revolution, any gains won by the working class in the form of higher wages or social benefits are reversible. Oil companies have been nationalized and de-nationalized repeatedly within the framework of the bourgeois state. The bosses wage constant war to reverse gains won through social struggle, from busting unions to massively curtailing welfare programs to attacks on abortion rights.

Klein (like many liberals) hopes Obama will revive the policies of John Maynard Keynes, the liberal bourgeois economist who proposed massive government spending to save the capitalist system during the Great Depression. But in fact what ended the economic crisis of the 1930s was not New Deal social spending but the much greater infusion of government funds during World War II, a point that Keynes acknowledged in 1940: “It is, it seems, politically impossible for a capitalistic democracy to organize expenditure on the scale necessary to make the grand experiment which would prove my case—except in war conditions” [our emphasis]. So much for a capitalist welfare state without violence!

Rejecting a revolutionary working-class perspective, Klein and SDS promote a host of non-proletarian forces to apply pressure for more crumbs off the capitalist table, ranging from the petty-bourgeois Zapatistas in Mexico to the Democrats in Washington (see “SDS Old & New: From Tepid Liberalism to Radicalism and Back Again,” WV No. 927, 2 January). Predictably, in describing Friedman’s role in Chile, Klein enthuses that Socialist Party leader Salvador Allende, the Chilean president murdered during Pinochet’s coup, was “a new breed of Latin American revolutionary” who “believed that socialist change in Chile needed to come through the ballot box, not the barrel of a gun.” In reality, Allende’s Unidad Popular regime was a classic example of a popular-front government, a bloc of working-class parties (such as Allende’s Socialist Party) with a mythical “progressive” section of the bourgeoisie, where the political program of the working-class component is subordinated to that of the bourgeoisie and defense of capitalist property relations. Uniquely on the left, following the Unidad Popular’s election in 1970, we called for workers and leftists to “irreconcilably oppose the Popular Front in the election and to place absolutely no confidence on it in power. Any ‘critical support’ to the Allende coalition is class treason, paving the way for a bloody defeat for the Chilean working people when domestic reaction, abetted by international imperialism, is ready” (see “Popular Front Paved Way for Pinochet Terror,” WV No. 883, 5 January 2007).

Allende came to power in Chile amidst an upsurge of working-class strikes and peasant land seizures. While Allende preached that he would lead Chile on a “peaceful” (i.e., parliamentary) road to socialism, his regime was a capitalist government that used the bourgeois armed forces to contain the proletariat. It was the Allende government that promoted Pinochet as head of the army, and simultaneously Allende vowed to outlaw workers militias, undermining any defense against the generals. Allende was not simply the martyred victim of the Chilean generals and the CIA that Klein portrays; as we had warned would happen, his class-collaborationist policies led the Chilean working class directly into the jaws of crushing defeat.

If Klein and SDS seek to pressure the capitalists for a few more crumbs, the Platypus group—whose defining position is its support to the U.S. neocolonial occupation of Iraq—doesn’t even want the crumbs! In response to Klein (and to the SYC), this pseudo-Marxist, academic talk shop grotesquely lauds Friedman for his “critique and opposition to what he called the ‘tyranny of the status quo’,” arguing that it is “not very useful, to try to prosecute Friedman by reference, for instance, to Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile.” Even Klein’s proposal to nationalize the oil companies gives these “Marxian” grad students the willies: “such a wave of nationalizations would lay the ground very well, and very quickly, for future wars and other forms of social destruction, at the great expense of the freedom-potential a more liberal and cosmopolitan capitalism makes possible.” The “freedom” that Platypus jumps up to defend is the capitalists’ freedom to pillage and plunder, as the bloody “shock treatment” of Pinochet’s regime graphically illustrates.

In responding to Klein, who rails that the left must account for “totalitarian Communism,” our SYC comrade stated that we Trotskyists have nothing to apologize for, and fight for new October Revolutions on the model of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. As the first and only successful workers revolution in history, the Russian Revolution serves as a model for all those who would seek to end capitalist oppression once and for all. Despite its Stalinist bureaucratic degeneration in the 1920s, the Soviet workers state showed how collectivized property forms and centralized planning can massively increase productivity, while also serving as a bulwark against imperialist depredations around the globe. As part of our fight for world socialist revolution, we fought to the end to defend the Soviet Union, as we do the remaining deformed workers states today—China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam. We also fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the bureaucrats and institute workers democracy. Above all, we seek to win students and radical youth to the perspective of building a revolutionary workers party that can fight to overthrow capitalism here in the belly of the U.S. imperialist beast. Join us in this struggle!