Know your propaganda: The Mohawk Valley Formula

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The ruling class spends billions on trying to control what working class folks think. From movies sponsored or supervised by the US military to the CIA’s funding for abstract art and literary journals in the 1950s and 1960s, there is no avenue the super-rich will leave untouched when it comes to making sure it is their ideas we are thinking, not ours.

That’s why it is important to understand the history of this propaganda and learn to spot it when you see it. That’s the only way we can start thinking our own thoughts and start working toward liberation.

In the early part of the 20th century, labor unions and working people fought bitter, life-and-death struggles to be treated fairly and humanely while at work. The protections we have now (such as they are) were won through literal battles waged by communists, anarchists and labor activists. Thousands of working people died in these struggles.

In 1937, as mass media was becoming more prevalent, one company came up with ways of using misinformation, propaganda, staged events and phony “grassroots” groups to disorient and discredit striking workers in the public eye.

In 1936/37, the Remington Rand corporation (which still exists, now called Unisys) faced a strike by an AFL union. This strike spawned the formula.

The formula consisted of labeling the strikers as “agitators” and malcontents in the media and suggesting that the vast majority of the employees were happy and that the strikers were merely stirring up trouble.

It also (perhaps for the first time in modern history) called for the formation of what are currently called “astroturf” groups. These are groups formed by corporations that pretend to be ordinary citizen organizations, but are really just propaganda fronts. They are extremely common now and are particularly used by fossil fuel companies to prevent criticism for their role in climate change. The formula called for representatives of these groups (secretly formed by the corporation) to be interviewed in media and to hold public meetings.

The formula also called for massive shows of force by police and military (such as we see any time anti-fascist protesters arrive anywhere).

Theatrics were also a large part of the formula. In the Rand case, they held a huge “back to work” event where strikebreakers marched into the factory while others gave speeches about how glad they were that the strikers had failed in disrupting the community.

At that point, the media could be told that the strike was over that that any other issues were merely the work of disgruntled employees trying to interfere with the “right to work”.

The formula was widely disseminated by corporate groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers. Since then, it has been honed as one of the ruling class’s sharpest weapons.

These techniques now have spread across the globe and are used by the US government against foreign countries that anger capitalists. For example, in Venezuela, it is constantly asserted that the majority of Venezuelans disapprove of the government of Maduro (and previously Hugo Chavez) and its socialist aims and that Venezuelans want to “return to normal”.

The reality is that the Maduro government has wide support and it is only small fraction that opposes the government’s actions.

These same tricks are used by US media in Syria and Iran as well.

Perhaps the most insidious versions of the formula are the ones that preach that class struggle does not exist. The formula presents a version of society where everyone has a place – the rich, the bankers, the workers – and that any attempt to change that will ruin the peace and security of the community.

This part of the formula is in literally every piece of media we consume. Watch for it and think about it.

We as working people may not have control (for the moment) of the banks, the police, the military. But we do have control of our own minds. Notice this propaganda when you see it and realize you’re being sold something to keep you from realizing your power.

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