Beyond Machiavelli: the conspiratorial nature of the capitalist class

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The capitalist ruling class, the bourgeoisie, is often called “Machiavellian” after the Florentine writer, philosopher and republican diplomat of that name who lived around the turn of the sixteenth century. The word is used as shorthand to describe elements, in this case a class, that knowingly plots and intrigues against its enemy or enemies. There is nothing surprising about this as all ruling classes since the beginning of civilisation have adopted and adapted this characteristic of intrigue to their politics and rule, and, with the development of state capitalism, this is even more so with the Lords of the Earth today. In fact, Machiavellianism, shorthand though it is, doesn’t even begin to describe the scheming, conspiratorial nature of the bourgeoisie, a class that has gone well beyond the works of Niccolo Machiavelli and whose actions leave his works looking quite insipid and dated[1].

Machiavellianism doesn’t go anyway far enough in describing the deviousness, the lies, manipulations and ruthlessness of the bourgeoisie that is the daily practice of this class, which has “become the central mode of functioning for the modern bourgeoisie which, utilising the tremendous means of social control available to it under the conditions of state capitalism, takes Machiavellianism to a qualitatively higher stage” (International Review no. 108, Winter 2002, “Pearl Harbour 1941, Twin Towers 2001, Machiavellianism of the US Bourgeoisie”).

 There are other historical examples which can be added to these[2]. Of course the bourgeoisie doesn’t and can’t control everything – nothing like it; particularly when the world is moving into more chaotic times economically, military and socially and  when, in the first two, centrifugal tendencies become stronger and stronger with both affecting the third. And the bourgeoisie, from its very nature as a class based on cut-throat competition, is riven by faction fights and tensions within itself. But “even with an incomplete consciousness, the bourgeoisie is more than capable of formulating strategy and tactics and using its totalitarian control mechanisms of state capitalism to implement them. It is the responsibility of revolutionary marxists to expose this Machiavellian manoeuvring and lying. To turn a blind eye to this aspect of the ruling class offensive to control society is irresponsible and plays into the hands of the class enemy” (ibid). At many levels, and particularly in relation to the proletariat, even though this system is built on sand, capitalist decomposition can only sharpen up and concentrate the conspiratorial nature of the bourgeoisie within the framework of state capitalism, militarism, ideology and repression. The open development of its economic crisis means that the working class should take the ability of the ruling class to manoeuvre against it very seriously indeed. 

One historical example: the French Connection

During and towards the end of the Second World War we see the murderous intrigue that the bourgeoisie uses against the working class. We have the example of Winston Churchill, who with others actively conspired against the Russian Revolution and in the rise of the Nazis to power in order to confront the working class. Having learnt the lessons of World War One and how the working class, even in such unfavourable conditions could still be a major threat, the British and American bourgeoisies developed their massacres of workers through the terror of ariel bombardments. In Italy 1943, the Allies stopped their advance in order, in Churchill’s words, to let the Italian proletariat “stew in its own juice”, i.e., be slaughtered by the Nazis. In a different tack, again in 1943, US imperialism worked with the Italian and American mafia in order to facilitate its invasion and advance through Italy and used them to attack workers’ demonstrations and meetings. Just after the war, the population of Germany was subjected to a regime of forced marches, terror and starvation all planned, organised and executed by the ruling class. The conspiratorial nature of the bourgeoisie is here for all to see but we want to look to the French Connection, Marseille just after the war, to discern some more elements of the nature of this imperialist conspiracy against the working class.

The context is victorious US capital in a bipolar world and the need to confront its Russian rival, secure war-torn Europe against Soviet imperialism and smother any attempts at independent class struggle that could or couldn’t favour the interests of Russia. In Marseille, the CIA joined forces with the Corsican underworld in order to undermine the city’s Communist-led government and to break the 1947 and 1950 dock strikes. Concerned about Russian gains in the Mediterranean and the growth of Russian-backed communist parties in Western Europe the Truman administration came up with the multibillion-dollar European Recovery Plan, later known as the Marshall Plan. The city of Marseille and its docks were vital for US imperialism’s interests and its imperialist reach – including the war in Indo-China. The Corsican mafia had the protection of the French intelligence unit, the SDECE (the French equivalent of the CIA), not least from their cooperation in helping to break the spontaneous outbreaks of class struggle in February 1934 by dockers and other workers in the city by firing into the crowd. The French fascists also used the syndicate to counter workers’ demonstrations in the 1930s. There was continuity in their later use by the Resistance[3], the Gestapo and the CIA. Like the Italian mafia, the Corsican “milieu” was fiercely nationalist, had their own business interests and was happy to work for any paymaster in the interests of the state; they were a major force in the politics of the city. Their cohesiveness, ruthlessness and organisation made them an ideal partner for democracy in the late 40s in the face of workers’ struggles and/or possible Russian influence. When the US occupied Marseille in August 1944, the Resistance was largely infiltrated by thousands of Corsican gangsters and hoodlums[4]. The newly-formed national police reserve, the CRS (Compagnie Republicaine de Securite), had a high number of its officers recruited from the Communist side of the Resistance and they had the task, under the new left-wing coalition, of restoring order and sorting out the gangsters. The clandestine intervention of the CIA subsequently toppled the Communists, purged the Communist elements from the CRS’s ranks and, on the back of working class defeats, a Socialist/underworld CIA-inspired alliance was in charge of the city’s politics: “The CIA, through its contacts in the Socialist Party, had sent agents and a psychological warfare team to Marseille, where they dealt directly with the Corsican syndicate leaders through the Guerini brothers. The CIA’s operatives supplied arms and money to Corsican gangs for assaults on Communist picket lines and harassment of important union officials. During the month-long (1947) strike the CIA’s gangsters and the purged CRS police units murdered a number of striking workers and mauled the picket lines. Finally, the CIA psychological warfare team prepared pamphlets, radio broadcasts and posters aimed at discouraging workers from continuing the strike”[5].  

All elements against the working class

De Gaulle’s RPF won a mandate in the French elections of 1947 and in Marseille their first act was to raise transport prices thus piling increased misery on the working class. The unions organised a boycott of the trams and workers attacked any that were running. Four young sheet-metal workers were arrested for attacking a tram and, early in the morning of November 12, thousands of workers met up in front of the courthouse, attacked the police and freed the young workers.  Guided by their US advisors, successive French cabinets had held down wages and increased working hours. Industrial production was restored to pre-war levels but wages had fallen well below the depths of the depression[6], while taxes rose (le Monde called them “more iniquitous than that which provoked the French Revolution”[7]). Workers were eating nearly 20% less in 1947 than 1938. Following the freeing of the young workers in Marseille, demonstrations and repression followed in and 40,000 workers demonstrating in front of City Hall against the Mayor’s Corsican “muscle” were demobilised only by frightened Communist Party officials calling for calm. Corsican gangsters, who later developed an informal “understanding” with Gaullist governments over their heroin production, opened fire on bands of demonstrators several of whom were wounded, with a young metal worker later dying, and a general strike broke out. Spontaneous wildcats and demonstrations erupted in the rest of France and the Communist leadership, which had some credibility in the working class and which had got the latter to swallow draconian austerity measures, was reluctantly forced into action. One US State Department official analyst, showing that the US was just as much concerned with the proletariat as with Russian expansion, wrote in mid-46, that the Communist leadership “could no longer hold back the rank and file”[8]. By late 1947, 3 million French workers were on strike against the worsening conditions imposed on them by the state’s austerity measures. The US sped up its Marshall Plan and the CIA moved to help to break the strike using the Socialists and the unions – with similar moves in Greece, Turkey, Italy, etc.

In June 1948, the US set up a CIA offshoot, the Office of Policy Coordination, which was more independent, more clandestine than the CIA and its brief was to develop “a covert political action capability” including active clandestine trade union infiltration[9]. With this organisation any enemy of the working class or Russian imperialism, ex-Gestapo officers, Corsican gangsters, “free” trade unions, “socialists”, etc., became allies of the US. Working through the American Federation of Labour (AFL), which was operating its own secret networks in Europe, the CIA/OPC indentified its friends and foes. The French Socialist Party was a friend (de Gaulle was too independent for the US) and US trade union money and activity was directed towards setting up their unions. The SP was also bankrolled through these conduits and police repression against striking workers was directed through the Socialist Interior Minister, Jules Moch[10]. Victory in Marseille was essential for the US and the CRS was purged of CP members and began its new life by violently attacking 80,000 strikers, demonstrators and pickets. The US psychological warfare unit did its job and the CIA worked in the city in hand with the Corsican syndicates, the trade unions, the Socialists, in order to mete out propaganda, assaults and murder to the working class. In the face of this relentless onslaught the workers abandoned their strike in December along with most other French workers. Three years after the 1947 strikes and, if anything, things had got worse for the working class. A new wave of strikes broke out across France against austerity and it was particularly well supported by the proletariat in Marseille. This demanded the further attention of the CIA and $2 million of its funds were channelled through the OPC and the AFL delivered blackleg labourers from Italy where they worked alongside local Corsican criminals. By 1950 the CIA/OPC backed Corsican gangsters controlled the Marseille waterfront allowing scabs and military personnel in despite sporadic strikes. A not insignificant side-effect of this was the growth of the gangster’s expert heroin processing which was to become the USA’s main supplier and whose high-grade number 4 product was responsible for the deaths and addictions of many US users.

In May 1968, when General de Gaulle’s government came close to collapsing faced with generalised class struggle; French intelligence organised 5000 French and Corsican gangsters into the Service d’Action Civique (SAC) breaking up demonstrations, silencing hecklers, providing bodyguards, etc.,  with top police and intelligence officers in charge[11]. When President Georges Pompidou inspected the Concorde supersonic aircraft at Toulouse in 1971, 500 SAC members turned out as bodyguards presumably because of the close proximity of proletarians[12]. They were further used in “dirty” missions.


The idea that the bourgeoisie doesn’t continually conspire against the working class, the idea that it’s just reactive or stupid, that “things just happen”, that it’s not a class of organised gangsters, not only underestimates our class enemy but even more so underestimates the capacity of the working class and the needs of the class struggle overall. The capitalist economic system is breaking down, or threatening to break down at a pace and all the conspiring, planning, plotting and scheming will not alter that in the main; what it will accentuate though is the bourgeoisie’s drive to war and its organisation and plots against the working class. It will defend its imperialist interests against all and sundry and show a unity of interest faced with a working class fighting against the effects of the crisis. It’s got nothing else but ideology, organisation and weapons and it will use them against the working class.


Baboon 8/8/11 





[1] Not just in time; in the brilliant TV series “The Sopranos”, depicting a mobster family in modern-day New Jersey, “waste-management consultant”, Tony Soprano, is clear about the limits of Machiavelli’s work for the present day, preferring instead, in relation to understanding and attacking the weaknesses of one’s enemies in order to maintain power, the works of Chinese philosopher and military strategist, Sun Tzu, some two thousand years earlier. The works of Sun Tzu, who may be a composite figure, are also recommended reading for the US Marine corps elite, US Military Intelligence and all CIA officers.

[2] “In 1898, the battleship USS Maine was destroyed in Havana harbour by a mysterious explosion. The US government immediately seized on the pretext to declare war on Spain with the aim of “liberating” Cuba.” The true cause of the disaster is now thought to be an accident. Still with Cuba and the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s, Robert Kennedy “suggested looking for a pretext –‘sink the Maine or something’ and go to war with the Soviets.” (International Review no. 113, “US foreign policy since World War II, part one”.

[3] A significant number of the Corsicans sided with the Resistance; they were patriots after all and couldn’t stand the thought of the Italian occupation of their island. The Resistance in Marseille was typical of France; selectively supported by the US and Britain, generally unsupported by the population, no more than a nuisance to the Germans and divided between Communists and non-Communists. The conspiratorial nature and penchant for espionage of the gangsters made them ideal components of the Resistance. See The Politics of Heroin, chapter 2: America’s Heroin Laboratory by Alfred W. McCoy for the role of the Corsican mafia in the 1947 and 1950s dock strikes; Eugene Saccomano, Bandits a Marseille (Paris: Juillaard 1968, pp 53-54) for their role with the fascists and against the working class in the 1930s. And for their role in the Resistance, Charles Tillon, Les F.T.P. (Paris: Union Generale d’Editions, 1967) pp 167-73.

[4] Maurice Agulhon and Fernand Barrat, C .R.S. a Marseille, Paris: Armand Colin, 1971), pp 46-47, 75-77.

In response to the Free French mobilisation of the ruling class in support of the Allies, the lead article of the Communist Left publication L’Etincelle, August 1944, addressing the workers, talked of strikes breaking out “as in Milan, Naples and Marseille”.

[5] Interview with Lt. Col. Lucien Conein, McLean, Virginia, June 18, 1971. He worked as an OSS (forerunner of the CIA)liaison officer with the Resistance during WWII and later served in the CIA. Quoted in McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin.

[6] Joyce Kolko and Gabriel Kolko, The Limits of Power (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), p. 157.

[7] Ibid., p.147.

[8] Ibid., p.157.

[9] U.S. Congress, Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, “History of the Central Intelligence Agency”, Supplementary Detailed Staff Reports on Foreign and Military Intelligence, Book IV, 94th Cong. 2nd sess., 1976 (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, Senate Report No. 94-755), pp. 25-37.

[10] “It was on this occasion that the leaders of the Force Ouvriere faction separated themselves definitively from the C.G.T. and founded with the aid of American labour unions, the coalition which still bears its name” (added emphasis). (Jacques Julliard, Le IV Republique [Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1968] p. 124). It wasn’t the first intervention of US intelligence in funding French leftism. During WWII, the OSS’s Labour Branch, under the direction of Arthur Goldberg, supplied funds to the Socialist leadership of the clandestine CGT: (R. Harris Smith OSS: The Secret History of America’s First Central Intelligence Agency [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972], p.182).

[11] Phillip M. Williams and Martin Harrison, Politics and Society in de Gaulle’s Republic (London: Longman Group, 1971), pp 383-84.

[12] Sunday Times, September 26, 1971.

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