Propaganda as a Means of Protecting Corporate Power Against Democracy

I publish a lot of articles related to propaganda. And here’s another one 🙂

The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.

There have been two principal aspects to the growth of democracy in this century: the extension of popular franchise (i.e. the right to vote) and the growth of the union movement. These developments have presented corporations with potential threats to their power from the people at large (i.e. from public opinion) and from organized labor. American corporations have met this threat by learning to use propaganda, both inside and outside the corporation, as an effective weapon for managing governments and public opinion. They have thereby been able to subordinate the expression of democratic aspirations and the interests of larger public purposes to their own narrow corporate purposes.

It is arguable that the success of business propaganda in persuading us, for so long, that we are free of propaganda is one of the most significant propaganda achievements of the twentieth century.

The corporate fears that intensified after World War II resumed a trend that had been evident in the 1930s

Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997:

[A] review in November 1945 of a dozen [popular opinion] surveys carried out in the previous five years concluded that: “[People] have two serious reservations about industry; that great industrial corporations lack warmth and friendliness in their human relationships; and that the owners of industry, the stockholders, realise too great a return on their contribution to industry. [Thus] two counts on which industry is most vulnerable are (1) its human relationships and (2) the widespread public misunderstanding about corporate profits.”

Pg. 147

By 1934 American business, led by the N.A.M. [National Association of Manufacturers] had oriented itself for a massive campaign to recapture public opinion. “Public policies in our democracy are eventually a reflection of public opinion,” the N.A.M. warned its members, so public opinion must be reshaped “if we are to avoid disaster. . . .” [In] 1938 the N.A.M.’s Board of Directors . . . found the “hazard facing industrialists” to be “the newly realized political power of the masses.” It warned that unless their thinking was directed, “we are headed for adversity.

Pg. 24

Russell Porter, Research in Human Relationship Seen Needed for Reconversion, New York Times, April 21, 1946:

No reasonable observer could deny that the country is facing a crisis within the next few years, in view of the way reconversion [from wartime production] has been stalled by one major strike after another… Although the tremendous demand for goods from all over the world and the unprecedented productive capacity of the American industrial machine as expanded during the war no doubt insure the nation of prosperity during the next few years, both economists and business men are worried over the longer future. . . . [T]hey believe efforts must be begun right now to solve critical problems in the social and economic fields through management-labor cooperation

In the broader perspective, many also realize that the future of the free enterprise system is at stake, in view of its world-wide competition from Socialism and Communism, as we succeed or fail in the coming years to provide greater economic democracy and social justice to match our political democracy… If the free enterprise system, including free labor as well as free industry, is to be saved, something…will have to be done.

Editorial, “Business Is Still In Trouble,” Fortune Magazine, May 1949, pp. 67f:

Sixteen turbulent years have rolled by since the New Deal began to rescue the People from the Capitalists, and no one can say that business has retrieved the authority and respect it ought to have if the drift to socialism is to be arrested. Every U.S. businessman, consciously or unconsciously, is on the defensive… A majority of the people… [according to public opinion polls] believe that very few businessmen have the good of the nation in mind when they make their important decisions. They think business is too greedy and that it has played a large part in keeping prices too high. They think, therefore, that government should keep a sharp eye on business. And they have been thinking just about that way for fifteen years.

This Fortune Magazine editorial then describes the business community’s response to the “crisis”:

The immense expansion of the art of public relations in the past ten years was financed mainly by industry. . . . It is as impossible to imagine a genuine democracy without the science of persuasion as it is to think of a totalitarian state without coercion.

The daily tonnage output of propaganda and publicity… has become an important force in American life. Nearly half of the contents of the best newspapers is derived from publicity releases; nearly all the contents of the lesser papers and the hundreds of specialized periodicals are directly or indirectly the work of P.R. departments… The day is surely coming when American business, so long run by its production men and supersalesmen, must be run by men who put public relations ahead of everything else… [Public relations] is a corporate way of life.

William E. Simon [former U.S. Treasury Secretary], A Time for Truth, New
York: Reader’s Digest, 1978. An excerpt (pp. 230-231):

Funds generated by business (by which I mean profits, funds in business foundations and contributions from individual businessmen) must rush by multimillions to the aid of liberty, in the many places where it is beleaguered. Foundations imbued with the philosophy of freedom (rather than encharged with experimental dabbling in socialist utopian ideas or the funding of outright revolution) must take pains to funnel desperately needed funds to scholars, social scientists, writers and journalists who understand the relationship between political and economic liberty.

One does not work from “within” the egalitarian world to change it; one can only work from without — and this absurd financing of one’s philosophical enemies must not be tolerated in the new foundations. On the contrary, they must serve explicitly as intellectual refuges for the non-egalitarian scholars and writers in our society who today work largely alone in the face of overwhelming indifference or hostility. They must be given grants and more grants in exchange for books, books and more books. This philosophical restriction placed on the beneficiaries of the new foundations will not result in a uniformity of intellectual product. There is an enormous diversity of viewpoints within the center-to-right intellectual world which endorses capitalism. The point is simply to make sure that the thinkers on that broad band of the American spectrum are given the means to compete in the free market of ideas. Today they constitute an impoverished underground.

Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise: the Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945-1960, University of Illinois Press, 1992. She sources the following materials:

N.A.M. News, December 16, 1950, and February 17, 1951; and S.C. Allyn, “Industry as a Good Neighbor,” Address before the 53rd Annual Congress of American Industries, December 1, 1948, in the archives of the N.A.M. Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware.

The NAM was joined by several trade associations, including the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Electric Power Companies and the American Madical Association, in an effort to derail Fair Deal programs on such issues as natural resources, public power, and healthcare. J. Warren Kinsmann, chairman of the N.A.M.’s [National Association of Manufacturers] Public Relations Advisory Committee and vice president of Du Pont, reminded businessmen that “in the everlasting battle for the minds of men” the tools of public relations were the only weapons “powerful enough to arouse public opinion sufficiently to check the steady, insidious and current drift toward Socialism…”

Further in the book, Fones-Wolf writes:

S.C. Allyn of National Cash Register . . . [summarized] corporate objectives. The goal was to “indoctrinate citizens with the capitalist story.

One of the more interesting things that N.A.M and others invested into was “Industry on Parade“. Entirely produced by N.A.M., Industry on Parade was a short television program that aired in the United States from 1950–1960. It was nationally syndicated and reached up to 20 millions person per week! The show promotes capitalist industrial production and typically ends with an anti-communist message 🙂

Thanks for reading,

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