compiled by Alice
The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited
by James Petras
After the Second World War, with the discrediting in Western Europe of the old right (compromised by its links to the fascists and a weak capitalist system), the CIA realized that, in order to undermine the anti-NATO trade unionists and intellectuals, it needed to find (or invent) a Democratic Left to engage in ideological warfare. A special sector of the CIA was set up to circumvent right-wing Congressional objections. The Democratic Left was essentially used to combat the radical left and to provide an ideological gloss on U.S. hegemony in Europe. At no point were the ideological pugilists of the democratic left in any position to shape the strategic policies and interests of the United States. Their job was not to question or demand, but to serve the empire in the name of "Western democratic values." Only when massive opposition to the Vietnam War surfaced in the United States and Europe, and their CIA covers were blown, did many of the CIA-promoted and -financed intellectuals jump ship and begin to criticize U.S. foreign policy. For example, after spending most of his career on the CIA payroll, Stephen Spender became a critic of U.S. Vietnam policy, as did some of the editors of Partisan Review. They all claimed innocence, but few critics believed that a love affair with so many journals and convention junkets, so long and deeply involved, could transpire without some degree of knowledge.
The CIA's involvement in the cultural life of the United States, Europe, and elsewhere had important long-term consequences. Many intellectuals were rewarded with prestige, public recognition, and research funds precisely for operating within the ideological blinders set by the Agency. Some of the biggest names in philosophy, political ethics, sociology, and art, who gained visibility from CIA-funded conferences and journals, went on to establish the norms and standards for promotion of the new generation, based on the political parameters established by the CIA. Not merit nor skill, but politics—the Washington line—defined "truth" and "excellence" and future chairs in prestigious academic settings, foundations, and museums.
The CIA's cultural campaigns created the prototype for today's seemingly apolitical intellectuals, academics, and artists who are divorced from popular struggles and whose worth rises with their distance from the working classes and their proximity to prestigious foundations. The CIA role model of the successful professional is the ideological gatekeeper, excluding critical intellectuals who write about class struggle, class exploitation and U.S. imperialism—"ideological" not "objective" categories, or so they are told.
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