Propaganda: The Bread and Butter of the Progressive Left

I've just googled "Russian collusion" and come up with 24 million results.  This despite the fact that no credible evidence exists of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.  How is it possible that nearly 60% of Americans doubt the president's innocence when the Special Counsel himself has come up with no proof of collusion?  The answer is propaganda.

Twentieth-century totalitarian regimes were masters of propaganda.  Lenin set the tone when he said, "A lie told often enough becomes the truth."  Stalin's rewriting of history is well known and factually documented.  Stalin ordered the Katyn massacre, in which 22,000 Polish officers and other prominent Poles were executed, and it was covered up and denied until 1990.  In these denials, the Soviets employed every sort of propaganda, including the claim that the massacre was carried out by German troops. 

Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda chief, was quoted as saying, "A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth."  That was Stalin's approach to the Katyn massacre, and it was Goebbels's approach as well.  Hitler wrote in Mein Kamp that propaganda "must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over."    

Present-day extremists rely on Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, and Alinsky's tactics differ little from those of his predecessors.  Focus on "a few points and repeat them over and over."  That is Alinsky's key lesson, and it is one that every progressive follows today, even if some may be unaware that Alinsky was paraphrasing Hitler.  Alinsky's 13th "rule" summarized his technique: "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."  Hitler picked his target, froze it, personalized it, and polarized it."  That target was "the Jews."  So did Stalin, Mao, Castro, and every other radical on the left or right.

Progressive leaders picked "Russian collusion" as soon as Donald Trump was elected, and they and their allies have repeated that fiction "over and over."  As Alinsky wrote in Rule #8, "Keep the pressure on."  Charges like Russian collusion take on a life of their own, just as Hitler's fabricated charges against "Jewish bankers" soon gained credence among many in Weimar Germany.  The truth of the charge is beside the point.  If repeated often enough with the support of a captive media, a large number of credulous persons will believe it.   

More broadly, the left has picked "Trump" as its target.  They're not talking about Trump as an individual or Trump's policies.  It's a fiction akin to Mao's "capitalist roaders," a labeling that contains no truth because it refers to nothing at all.  It's just "Trump."  Whatever is "Trump" is bad, very bad, and whatever is "Not Trump" is good.  Ocasio-Cortez is Not Trump.  So is Bernie.

This is not thinking.  It is the response of those who are susceptible to propaganda.

Never mind that President Trump has presided over an exceptional economic expansion, helped pass the largest tax cut in American history, negotiated favorable free trade agreements (with the likelihood of a major trade victory with China in the near future), and strengthened American prestige and power abroad.  By endlessly repeating the word "Trump" in a tone of contempt, the left has created the impression that there is something wrong.  No one can identity just what this may be, but no matter.  When it comes to propaganda, the truth is irrelevant.  Stalin's adversaries were "bourgeois," and the repetition of that word was all that was necessary to turn the public against them and justify (as the communists saw it) the slaughter of an estimated 9 million persons.

Mao, who killed far more, employed precisely the same propaganda technique: isolate the target (the "capitalist roaders"), freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.  What was the Cultural Revolution about if not that?  And what exactly was a "capitalist roader"?

Was Alinsky aware that he was recycling the techniques of the worst tyrants in human history?  He must have known.  As a graduate of the University of Chicago with two years of graduate work at the same institution, Alinsky was extremely well educated.  As an American Jew working at a high level of politics from 1932 to 1972, he must have been aware of Goebbels's role in the Nazi Party and of the methods of Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  Did he intentionally borrow the methods of Goebbels, Lenin, and Stalin, and if so, can we say that the left's current methods are simply fascism and communism writ large?  Speaking of his activities in the 1930s, Alinsky told Playboy that he "worked in close alliance with the Communist Party."  He was proud of having done so, even at a time when Stalin was conducting the Moscow Show Trials.

Hillary Clinton acknowledged the influence of Saul Alinsky on her thinking, even choosing to write her undergraduate thesis on him.  A younger generation of radicals has been influenced, directly or indirectly, by Alinsky's Rules.  Elizabeth Warren's connections with Alinsky (and with the democratic socialists of America and other hard-left groups) have been traced by the Daily Wire, while Ocasio-Cortez proudly identifies herself as a socialist and may be closest to Alinsky in her methods.

With freshmen like Ocasio-Cortez in Congress, this year will be a wild ride.  But Ocasio-Cortez is not just "wild," a loose cannon who's kind of fun – she's skilled at using Alinsky's propaganda techniques.  She wasn't just a bartender before she got elected: she was a community organizer as well.  As Alinsky wrote, "[t]he organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community."  "Women like me..." "Puerto Rican woman..." "Poor woman."  That is propaganda, and it's now the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

There's not much place for white men and women in the New Democratic Party, not much place for the rich or the merely affluent, no place for the faithful or for those who defend tradition.  And it's not just a matter of rejecting compromise ("Not one penny for the wall"); it's a matter of excluding half the country from any sort of representation.  You will do as California and New York say, or you will be forced to do so.  The left has become fanatical in its tactics, and its extreme use of propaganda is just the latest indication.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

Image: Corey Torpie via Wikimedia Commons.

I've just googled "Russian collusion" and come up with 24 million results.  This despite the fact that no credible evidence exists of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.  How is it possible that nearly 60% of Americans doubt the president's innocence when the Special Counsel himself has come up with no proof of collusion?  The answer is propaganda.

Twentieth-century totalitarian regimes were masters of propaganda.  Lenin set the tone when he said, "A lie told often enough becomes the truth."  Stalin's rewriting of history is well known and factually documented.  Stalin ordered the Katyn massacre, in which 22,000 Polish officers and other prominent Poles were executed, and it was covered up and denied until 1990.  In these denials, the Soviets employed every sort of propaganda, including the claim that the massacre was carried out by German troops. 

Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda chief, was quoted as saying, "A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth."  That was Stalin's approach to the Katyn massacre, and it was Goebbels's approach as well.  Hitler wrote in Mein Kamp that propaganda "must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over."    

Present-day extremists rely on Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, and Alinsky's tactics differ little from those of his predecessors.  Focus on "a few points and repeat them over and over."  That is Alinsky's key lesson, and it is one that every progressive follows today, even if some may be unaware that Alinsky was paraphrasing Hitler.  Alinsky's 13th "rule" summarized his technique: "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."  Hitler picked his target, froze it, personalized it, and polarized it."  That target was "the Jews."  So did Stalin, Mao, Castro, and every other radical on the left or right.

Progressive leaders picked "Russian collusion" as soon as Donald Trump was elected, and they and their allies have repeated that fiction "over and over."  As Alinsky wrote in Rule #8, "Keep the pressure on."  Charges like Russian collusion take on a life of their own, just as Hitler's fabricated charges against "Jewish bankers" soon gained credence among many in Weimar Germany.  The truth of the charge is beside the point.  If repeated often enough with the support of a captive media, a large number of credulous persons will believe it.   

More broadly, the left has picked "Trump" as its target.  They're not talking about Trump as an individual or Trump's policies.  It's a fiction akin to Mao's "capitalist roaders," a labeling that contains no truth because it refers to nothing at all.  It's just "Trump."  Whatever is "Trump" is bad, very bad, and whatever is "Not Trump" is good.  Ocasio-Cortez is Not Trump.  So is Bernie.

This is not thinking.  It is the response of those who are susceptible to propaganda.

Never mind that President Trump has presided over an exceptional economic expansion, helped pass the largest tax cut in American history, negotiated favorable free trade agreements (with the likelihood of a major trade victory with China in the near future), and strengthened American prestige and power abroad.  By endlessly repeating the word "Trump" in a tone of contempt, the left has created the impression that there is something wrong.  No one can identity just what this may be, but no matter.  When it comes to propaganda, the truth is irrelevant.  Stalin's adversaries were "bourgeois," and the repetition of that word was all that was necessary to turn the public against them and justify (as the communists saw it) the slaughter of an estimated 9 million persons.

Mao, who killed far more, employed precisely the same propaganda technique: isolate the target (the "capitalist roaders"), freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.  What was the Cultural Revolution about if not that?  And what exactly was a "capitalist roader"?

Was Alinsky aware that he was recycling the techniques of the worst tyrants in human history?  He must have known.  As a graduate of the University of Chicago with two years of graduate work at the same institution, Alinsky was extremely well educated.  As an American Jew working at a high level of politics from 1932 to 1972, he must have been aware of Goebbels's role in the Nazi Party and of the methods of Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  Did he intentionally borrow the methods of Goebbels, Lenin, and Stalin, and if so, can we say that the left's current methods are simply fascism and communism writ large?  Speaking of his activities in the 1930s, Alinsky told Playboy that he "worked in close alliance with the Communist Party."  He was proud of having done so, even at a time when Stalin was conducting the Moscow Show Trials.

Hillary Clinton acknowledged the influence of Saul Alinsky on her thinking, even choosing to write her undergraduate thesis on him.  A younger generation of radicals has been influenced, directly or indirectly, by Alinsky's Rules.  Elizabeth Warren's connections with Alinsky (and with the democratic socialists of America and other hard-left groups) have been traced by the Daily Wire, while Ocasio-Cortez proudly identifies herself as a socialist and may be closest to Alinsky in her methods.

With freshmen like Ocasio-Cortez in Congress, this year will be a wild ride.  But Ocasio-Cortez is not just "wild," a loose cannon who's kind of fun – she's skilled at using Alinsky's propaganda techniques.  She wasn't just a bartender before she got elected: she was a community organizer as well.  As Alinsky wrote, "[t]he organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community."  "Women like me..." "Puerto Rican woman..." "Poor woman."  That is propaganda, and it's now the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

There's not much place for white men and women in the New Democratic Party, not much place for the rich or the merely affluent, no place for the faithful or for those who defend tradition.  And it's not just a matter of rejecting compromise ("Not one penny for the wall"); it's a matter of excluding half the country from any sort of representation.  You will do as California and New York say, or you will be forced to do so.  The left has become fanatical in its tactics, and its extreme use of propaganda is just the latest indication.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

Image: Corey Torpie via Wikimedia Commons.