Resurgent America: The Crimes and Times of Ronald Reagan

Revolutionary Worker #1244, June 20, 2004, posted at

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 unprecedented way.

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 Berkeley.

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."

Mao Tsetung

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 the defensive.

Presidents toppled. First Lyndon Johnson, then Richard Nixon left office in disgrace.

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 U.S. supremacy.

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 "by choice."

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 today.

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 full swing.


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 minutes."

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 winnable.

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 helicopters.

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. military itself.

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 daughter.

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.

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 1984.

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 capitalist ownership.

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 Nicaraguan contras.

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 is not."

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