Revolutionary Worker #1244, June 20, 2004, posted
Ronald Reagan--the U.S. president from 1981 to 1989--relentlessly drove this
planet to the very brink of nuclear world war--while preaching, with a
fundamentalist fervor, that a nuclear Armageddon was "winnable."
He rallied vicious legions of fascists, killers, and mindless religious
patriots to his cause--and had them trained, funded and promoted in an
Everything that opposed the domination by U.S. capitalism, anything that was
progressive (or even just vaguely enlightened) became a target. Christian
crusaders, bigots and rightwing death squads were unleashed on the people in
countless ways, both open and secret.
Now Reagan has finally died. And this empire, its leaders and its utterly
shameless media are all honoring this monster. This myth-making, this utter
reversal of right and wrong, says a lot about them and their system. And it says
a lot about this moment in history--when American is in a midst of a new
aggressive global offensive.
The Rise of a Rightwing Hatchet Man
Ronald Reagan was active in the anti-communist witch hunts after World War 2.
Reagan, a hack actor in Grade B westerns, introduced a "loyalty oath"
for actors and for the officials of the union he headed, the Screen Actors Guild
(SAG). He testified before the "House Un-American Activities
Committee" and privately snitched to the FBI to help them purge Hollywood
of "disloyal" artists.
Anti-communism soon became his career. Reagan toured the U.S. for General
Electric, giving speeches that promoted "free enterprise" capitalism
and rightwing politics. Prominent ruling class forces saw Reagan could put a
slick "aw shucks" face on rightwing politics. With their backing, he
became governor in California in 1966, running as a rabid opponent of
"unwashed kooks, campus malcontents and filthy speech advocates." He
announced, "I would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.."
And once in office, he launched a high-level vendetta against the rising
radical currents--like the Black Panther Party and the youth movement in
In May 1969, police moved against the communal Peoples' Park in Berkeley that
symbolized a rejection of capitalist property. Street fighting erupted. One man,
James Rector, died of gunshot wounds as squads of police opened fire in the
streets. Reagan sent his National Guard troops marching through the Berkeley
campus with fixed bayonets as state helicopters gassed the crowds. Reagan
personally defended the police decision to shoot people.
In 1974 Governor Reagan bitterly denounced huge crowds of poor people who
excitedly showed up to get free food that the Hearst Corporation had been forced
to distribute by the SLA kidnapping of Patty Hearst. Reagan said: "It's
just too bad we can't have an epidemic of botulism."
Reagan was an arrogant opponent of Black Liberation, a supporter of U.S.
escalation in Vietnam, a law-and- order counter-revolutionary, and a sneering
enemy of the radical youth culture. He was a hated symbol of everything the '60s
radical upsurge wanted to overthrow.
AmeriKKKa is Back
"We have so many people who can't see a fat man standing beside a thin
one without coming to the conclusion that the fat man got that way by taking
advantage of the thin one!"
Ronald Reagan, 1964
"Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?"
Ronald Reagan campaign speech, 1980
"Beginning with Reagan in particular, when he became President in 1981,
there was a massive ideological assault to undo what people had learned, to
make them `stupid' and to promote another view, a reactionary viewpoint."
Bob Avakian, "We Want State Power--and
We Should Want It," Revolutionary Worker, May 4, 2003
"Reversing correct verdicts goes against the will of the people."
The dreams of an "American Century" were punctured by the 1960s.
The U.S. invasion of Vietnam was defeated. The U.S. was widely exposed as a
global oppressor whose roots lay deep in slavery, genocide and aggressive
expansion. Mindless patriotism, conservatism, conformity, traditional sexual
roles, support for the military, "get rich" manias--all were put on
Presidents toppled. First Lyndon Johnson, then Richard Nixon left office in
By the late '70s, the U.S. ruling class was looking for a way out of this
"malaise." In 1979, they were hit hard. Vicious U.S. puppets were
overthrown in Nicaragua and Iran. And their social-imperialist rivals, the
Soviet Union, invaded Afghanistan. The U.S. ruling class decided to mount an
aggressive global comeback challenge. To spearhead this, they tapped Ronald
Reagan, a man from the extreme right fringe of U.S. politics, and made him
president in 1980.
He set out to mobilize every reactionary and backward force in a crusade for
Reagan's political work was packed with chilling racist symbolism. After
getting the nomination--he praised "states rights" in his first
speech--made in Philadelphia, Mississippi, known for the 1964 Klan murder of
three young civil rights workers. Reagan ranted about "welfare queens"
supposedly riding around in Cadillacs. He even said people were homeless
Reagan mobilized the so-called "Moral Majority"--and demanded a
return to "traditional moral values," which meant banning abortion,
imposing prayer on kids, and enshrining conservative Christianity as an official
religion in public life.
He mocked environmental concerns saying most air pollution was caused by
plants: "So let's not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission
standards from man-made sources." His press secretary pointed out a window
and shouted: "Look, killer trees!"
Within months of his inauguration, Reagan crushed the Patco strike of air
traffic controllers--and set a pattern of union busting that has continued until
When Reagan's administrators cut money for school lunches, they classified
ketchup and relish as vegetables to hide the drop in nutrition.
For six years after the first cases of AIDS appeared, Reagan refused to sound
the alarm, or mobilize social resources. By the time Reagan even mentioned the
word "AIDS" in 1985, 30,000 people had died, and the epidemic was in
In 1985, at the height of the Reagan Years, the Maoist magazine A World To
Win described those times:
"The United States of America appears to have gone totally mad. It
screams that its `hesitancies' and `self doubts' left over from Vietnam are
dispelled. `We won't be pushed around any more!'.Official America brims with
unapologetic self-love. Amid a reborn worship of `free enterprise,' the
proletarian, the poor, the non-white are openly scorned as `losers' who have
somehow personally failed to take advantage of the `limitless opportunities'
in the `land of the free.' Classic American know-nothingism is back in vogue.
`Traditional social roles,' especially for women and youth, are exalted and
increasingly enforced. Backwater religious fanatics are handed respectability
and influence. Submissiveness, motherhood, unthinking obedience are watchwords
of the times."
(From "Resurgent America Turns to Reaganism,"
Carl Dix, A World to Win, No. 2, 1985)
Ronnie Ray-Gun at the Brink of World War 3
"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed
legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five
Reagan's chilling "joke," before
a radio broadcast, August 11, 1984
Reagan's politics marshaled everything backward in the U.S. for a global
military drive to win U.S. domination. Their main target was the Soviet Union
and its allies, which had formed as a rival imperialist military bloc.
After the restoration of capitalism in the USSR in 1956, its rulers tried to
carve out their own profitable imperialist empire, and as the U.S. stumbled in
the 1960s and '70s, the Soviet social-imperialists stepped up their efforts.
Reagan set out to force a roll-back of Soviet influence, using raw military
power. In the first years of Reagan's rule, the U.S. government spent a full
$1.5 trillion to build a "global war-fighting capacity." President
Jimmy Carter's push to deploy "first strike" nuclear weapons was
carried through, and Reagan added a new ingredient for nuclear war-fighting:
plans for a Star Wars system in space.
The U.S. military was moving to be able to launch a quick, unannounced
nuclear strike, and then "defend itself" against any attempt by the
Soviet Union to retaliate. These were preparations for "waging and
winning" nuclear war. Reagan openly argued that such a war could be
This horrible offensive deeply marked the 1980s--it filled the nightmares of
a generation. Europe was treated as a potential nuclear battlefield. And
millions of people were drawn into active resistance to this great threat of
global nuclear war between two imperialist war blocs.
Death Squads of the Reagan Doctrine
Now, over Reagan's casket, his successors praise him for a "bloodless
victory over the Soviet Union." Their mythmaking hides mountains of bones
and fields filled with mass graves. Under Reagan, oppressive governments all
over were armored with new weapons for threatening their neighbors. Proxy wars
raged throughout the third world. And Reagan's government unleashed history's
greatest wave of covert CIA operations and secret wars.
On December 1, 1981, Reagan signed a secret National Security Directive (NSD)
that authorized the CIA to create a mercenary army to attack Nicaragua's new
Sandinista government. These "Contra" killers launched an intense
campaign of sabotage and assassination against Nicaragua's people. Reagan also
sent "military advisors" to El Salvador--to escalate a rightwing
death-squad campaign against rebels and peasant villages.
Reagan's CIA armies used secret drug trafficking to finance their arms
purchases--flying planes into U.S. mainland bases loaded with cocaine, and
flying back to Central American bases loaded with arms for the Contras. The
flood of cocaine helped create the "crack explosion" that hit U.S.
ghettos in the early '80s (all while Nancy Reagan declared a "war on
drugs" with her "Just Say No!" campaign).
In 1982, a Pentacostal fanatic, General Efrain Rios Montt, staged a coup in
Guatemala, with strong support from the U.S. "Moral Majority." He
carried out genocidal campaigns against Mayan villagers, killing an estimated
200,000 people. In the middle of this campaign, Reagan personally met Rios Montt
to praise him as a "man of great personal integrity and commitment."
Meanwhile, the CIA poured billions of dollars into their largest covert
operation in history--organizing an extreme Islamist fundamentalist army to
attack Soviet troops in Afghanistan and trap the USSR in an unwinnable
Vietnam-style quagmire. The CIA's "Mujahedeen" burned down schools and
slit the throats of schoolteachers for teaching boys and girls together in mixed
classes. In 1985 Reagan signed another secret NSD--this time providing the
Mujahedeen with sophisticated surface-to-air missiles to use against Soviet
More than one million Afghani people died in this U.S. Soviet proxy war,
one-third of the population fled into the desperation of refugee camps. The
CIA's allies in this war, including Osama bin Laden, would later create groups
like the Taliban and al-Qaida.
In Africa, the U.S. government recruited armed groups in southern Africa--to
attack the movements who had come to power in Angola and Mozambique, and to help
preserve the racist apartheid government in South Africa. The CIA's backing of
Jonas Savimbi's UNITA movement plunged Angola into long years of civil war that
ruined the country and made large parts of the population refugees.
These Nicaraguan contras, Afghan Mujahadeen and similar groups throughout the
world were called "freedom fighters" in Ronald Reagan's speeches. But
they were armed agents of U.S. imperialism--even though, in the beginning, the
direct U.S. role in their crimes was unknown and officially denied.
The Hot Wars of This "Cold War"
Meanwhile, Reagan launched repeated aggression directly using the U..S.
In 1981, Reagan provocatively sent an aircraft carrier into Libya's
territorial waters where they shot down two Libyan planes. It was an open U.S.
provocation against this small, oil-rich, North African country. In 1986, Reagan
sent planes to assassinate Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi in his bed. Qaddafi
survived, but the attack killed over 30 people, including Qaddafi's infant
In 1982, Reagan sent over 1,200 Marines into Lebanon's capital, Beirut.
Reagan withdrew that invasion force, after 258 Marines were killed in their
Beirut barracks. But he quickly moved to burnish his image of
"strongman" by staging an invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of
Grenada is only ten miles wide with a population of 90,000 people. Its major
product is the spice nutmeg. A popular movement there had placed an anti-U.S..
government in power. And so Reagan unleashed "Operation Urgent
Fury"--the October 1983 invasion by 2,000 troops. A phony justification was
cooked up--claiming that U.S. medical students were in danger there. Reagan
later quipped (with raw imperialist humor) that Grenada had to be conquered
because Americans "can't make eggnog without nutmeg."
This rape of tiny Grenada was a signal to the whole region of what the U.S.
would do to anyone who defied them. Starting in 1983, the U.S. Navy repeatedly
held massive exercises that, over and over, took an invasion force within
striking distance of Nicaragua.
In the Persian Gulf, the Reagan government backed the Iraqi government in a
brutal border war with Iran. The U.S. secretly helped funnel billions of dollars
in aid and arms to Saddam Hussein. During that time Saddam Hussein developed
chemical weapons and used them on Kurdish villages and Iranian troops. The U..S.
government prevented these actions from receiving international
condemnation--since they wanted their ally Saddam Hussein to continue
undermining Iran's government.
Over a million people died as the U.S. government dragged out this senseless
eight-year border war--all to force Iran firmly back under U.S. domination.
At the same time, as Carl Dix remarked in A World To Win :
"U.S. imperialism has found the banner of the `Free World' far too useful
for its purposes to abandon lightly. In fact, under Reagan there has been a
virtual fad of staging mock elections to prettify death squad regimes from El
Salvador to South Korea to Turkey."
It has a remarkably modern ring to it: Ranting about "bringing democracy
to the world" while unleashing torture, invasion, and U.S. domination.
A Real-life 1984
Reagan signed NSD 52 that authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) and National Guard forces to prepare to round up over 400,000 people into
prison camps. Under the guidance of an unknown Marine colonel, Oliver North, a
secret operation called "Rex 84 Bravo" practiced these plans in April
The Miami Herald published parts of a FEMA memo that described an
"Alpha Two Phase" of the exercise as a test of "emergency
legislation, assumption of emergency powers." In other words, the operation
included plans for martial law and the suspension of the U.S. Constitution.
REX 84 was connected to the testing of two other major war plans. Operation
Night Train deployed thousands of U.S. troops to Contra bases in Honduras for an
invasion of Nicaragua. A separate operation practiced military
command-and-control for global nuclear war.
In short, the U.S. government was considering an invasion of Nicaragua. And
it was preparing, if necessary, to suspend the Constitution, round up hundreds
of thousand of people within the U.S., and be ready to wage a global nuclear war
against the Soviet Union. These intermeshed scenarios show how far the Reagan
White House thought they might be about to take things.
At exactly that same time, Reagan was elevated to messianic status during the
1984 presidential election. The media reported how they had made this mummified
mediocrity "Teflon coated." A carefully manufactured popularity handed
him a landslide victory and a second term. It was a sign of a sinister consensus
that dominated the larger U.S. ruling class.
The 1985 article in A World To Win states:
"Unlike the previous world wars of this century, the United States stands
in the very front trenches of a looming third global conflict. It must prepare
its population to take the full shock of coming collisions in a way they never
had to before, even to the point of staring straight into the glare of the
nuclear fireball. For this, the U.S. imperialists must mobilize all of their
political reserves, and prepare to put everything on the line in the coming
gamble.. To describe the acts planned by these modern Hitlers, a whole new
vocabulary would have to be invented. It is this extreme necessity that has
conjured up the extremism of a Ronald Reagan."
"I see that murderous clown Ronald Reagan--who couldn't remember anything
about his part in the illegal war where tens of thousands of Nicaraguan people
were butchered by Contra mercenaries. I see his loyal lieutenant Oliver
North--who has become a much quoted moral authority these days--lying to
Congress and then falling on his sword, while George Bush was allowed to slide
and glide into the presidency."
Redwing writing in the Revolutionary
Worker , October 11, 1998
Shortly into Reagan's 1984 reelection, the new Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev adopted a new strategy: backing down from an all-out military showdown
with the U.S., seeking to buy time, delaying the outbreak of war, all while
trying to reinvigorate the Soviet economy and reconfigure their empire.
Gorbachev offered concessions to U.S. demands and the U.S. imperialists (headed
by Reagan) moved to accept those concessions.
Over the next years, Gorbachev's high-stakes strategy led to the unraveling
of his empire, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its bloc, and the
transformation of Soviet state-capitalism into more openly privatized forms of
At the same time, these developments also spurred an intense and escalating
political crisis within the U.S. ruling class known as Iran-Contra Affair.
A Lebanese magazine, Al-Shiraa (Nov. 3, 1986), leaked the first
reports that the U.S. had secretly sold Iran 1,000 TOW anti-tank missiles,
weapons components, and radar, in exchange for the release of a high-ranking CIA
official held hostage in Lebanon. Reagan's envoy Oliver North had taken the
profits from this deal and (secretly and illegally) bought arms for the
Reagan denied the reports. But he was quickly forced to say, "I told the
American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best
intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it
Reagan aides, like Oliver North, his boss John Poindextor, and General Colin
Powell, were caught lying on these matters to Congressional committees.
Month by month, more came out about the murderous global campaign that Reagan
and his minions had carried out--including a massive global operation of
pressuring allies and puppets to provide funds for CIA covert wars. Poindextor
tried to wipe out the records of these operations, but overlooked an email
backup system in the White House basement.
White House spokesman Bernard Kalb resigned when it was revealed that the
U.S. government had accused Libya of preparing attacks on the U.S.--knowing that
it was not true.
A high-level U.S. ruling class committee, the Tower Commission, was assigned
to resolve the crisis. Reagan was battered and widely discredited. But, in the
end, he was not forced to resign (as Nixon had been). He was shoved to the
political sidelines of his own White House, and a new political team (headed by
Senator Howard Baker, and working closely with Vice President Bush) took over
the day-to-day operations of the U.S. government.
This scandal, what it exposed, and the disgrace that fell on Reagan--these
have hardly been mentioned in the endless mythmaking that followed his death..
"To the Reaganites, racists, misogynists, televangelists, would-be Rambos,
war planners, and America- firsters, we say the future is not yours. Because
we see the potential of a different future, we will Refuse and Resist.."
Refuse and Resist!, 1987 Founding Statement
What does it mean that the President today seeks to associate himself with
Ronald Reagan? What does it mean when the Democratic challenger John Kerry calls
off his campaign to honor Reagan--and praises Reagan's leadership and
patriotism? Or when Bill Clinton complains that he is not allowed to make a
public eulogy over Reagan's corpse?
It means that U.S. imperialism is furiously racing down the same road blazed
by that monster, Ronald Reagan! It means they dream of world domination--and
they want the world to believe ridiculous myths about their good intentions.
We live in extreme times, that have a new stink of fascism about them. The
U.S. government is seeking to exploit its position of military superiority--as
the "world's only superpower." They have unleashed armies, death
squads, torturers, and police spies.
They have already put Reagan's name on an aircraft carrier and their national
airport--and they are now talking about engraving his face on some of their holy
dollar bills. Perhaps they should also etch his name on every bullet they send
to Iraq, and every cattle prod they use in their torture camps.
Any system and ruling class that can honor Ronald Reagan--this hateful
strangler of human hopes--shows what they are about. That alone reveals the
intense need to liberate humanity from their rule, and bring something radically
new into being.
Masters of War
A song by Bob Dylan
You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly
Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain.
And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead
of Reagan-And Why We Need the Death of This System