Watergate: A Miscalculation In Nixon's March to Fascism

[The author is particularly indebted for information in Kirkpatrick Sale. "The World Behind Watergate," New York Review of Books, May 3, 1973; and Martin Murray, "The United States' Continuing Economic Interests in Vietnam," Socialist Revolution, Nos. 13-14. MIT political scientist Walter Dean Burnham helped clarify a number of ideas through a lecture he gave at Harvard this summer. For more on Watergate and foreign policy, see Noam Chomsky, "Watergate: A Skeptical View," New York Review of Books, September 20, 1973. None of the above are responsible for errors in interpretation the author may have made.]

RON ZIEGLER'S calling Watergate a "third-rate burglary" was comical, but hardly the administration's most embarrassing Watergate explanation. The Ervin Committee has heard a host of implausibilities--from Bernard Barker's hope that CIA would again invade Cuba to "Bob" Haldeman's suspicions that communist governments were underwriting the Democrats.

Nixon and his underlings have concocted a sad and feeble tale of overzealous, but conscientious men breaking a few laws in a good cause. But who expected otherwise from the masters of double-think? None of Nixon's henchmen foresaw placing their heads on justice's block, and why not lie when the truth sounds equally implausible?

In his recent article, "Watergate: A Skeptical View," radical scholar Noam Chomsky convincingly argues that Watergate is one of Nixon's lesser crimes. The affair, he maintains, has attracted extraordinary attention only because its victims were members of the powerful liberal establishment.

Chomsky says that if we keep in mind Nixon's Indochina genocide:

...the exposures of the past several months are analogous to the discovery that the directors of Murder, Inc. were also cheating on their income tax. Reprehensible, to be sure, but hardly the main point.

But the Watergate revelations do have significance: "They indicate, once again, how frail are the barriers to some form of fascism in a state capitalist system in crisis."

Chomsky's comments on Watergate are among the most incisive so far written. But he understates what Watergate can teach us about Nixon, or, for that matter, about liberal writers. A close examination of Watergate shows that fascism is not merely Nixon's response to crisis; fascism is apparently the next stage of U.S. state capitalism.

Liberal explanations of Watergate have never gotten down to causes. Some blame Nixon's arrogance; some conjure up generalizations about national psychology. The most bizarre reasoning of all passes Watergate off as a one-of-a-kind right-wing crime whose exposure somehow vindicates the liberal system of justice.

Such explanations, especially the national psychology-type, have a disconcerting way of assuming what they purport to explain. Considering how regularly the government has undermined the rights of radicals for 60 years, the claim that government crime is exceptional seems especially untenable.

But the liberal failure to understand Watergate's historical roots is no accident. There are three clear-cut causes:

* Liberal writers have an ideology--and a political and economic system behind it--to protect. Since 1936, liberals have defended the growth of capitalism by assuring dissidents that the system was learning to correct social abuses.

How could faith in the system be justified if Watergate-type crimes, and worse, are not once-only exceptions, but constitute the logical outgrowth of the system's development?

* Liberals have failed to tie Watergate to the rest of Nixonism to avoid implicating men dear to the Eastern establishment. If we connect Watergate to Nixon's foreign policy, and his attitudes toward Congress and the two-party system, we must ask about the roles of men such as Kissinger, Richardson, Weinberger and Schlesinger--to name, for example, a few of the Harvard men in this administration.

* The Liberals have fallen into their customary error of confusing social issues with personality issues. If we look at Nixon rather than at the presidency and dwell on his arrogance rather than the changing structure of politics, we can limit criticism of the system to criticism of Nixon, and rejoice in his troubles as the triumph of justice.