You say ‘High School Musical’, I say ‘Mohawk Valley Formula’

By Bernadette Meaden
November 3, 2011

When George Osborne first stated "We’re all in this together", some people were amused and thought ‘High School Musical’ I was chilled and thought, ‘Mohawk Valley Formula’.

This Formula, drawn up in the 1930’s by American industrialists to defeat the labour movement, is explained by Noam Chomsky in a little pamphlet titled ‘Media Control: the spectacular achievements of propaganda.’

In this pamphlet, Chomsky explains how in the US the business and political elite have manipulated the public so skillfully that the majority of the population has been persuaded that their interests are identical to the interests of that elite. This has been so stunningly effective that minimum wage workers can see universal health care as a threat to democracy, and tax rises for the rich as a threat to their own livelihoods.

The Formula was first used in the Johnstown steel strike of 1937, where propaganda was used to turn the general population against the strikers, portraying them as dangerous, disruptive, and a threat to the common interests of the community. As Chomsky explains, "The common interests are those of 'us', the businessman, the worker, the housewife. That’s all 'us'. We want to be together and have things like harmony and Americanism and working together. Then there’s those bad strikers out there who are disruptive and causing trouble and breaking harmony and violating Americanism. We’ve got to stop them so we can all live together. The corporate executive and the guy who cleans the floors all have the same interests. We can all work together..." Starting to sound familiar? Yes, if you clean offices for the minimum wage, you are really in the same boat as millionaire George Osborne. We are all in this together, after all.

Another aspect of this approach is to divide the population against each other, so they never get round to really questioning those in power. We have seen the scapegoating of benefit claimants and disabled people, as if they were a major cause of our economic troubles, and it is frequently implied that rising unemployment figures are really reflecting a mass outbreak of laziness. If only the unemployed would try a bit harder, travel a bit further, they would find a job.

Public sector workers who strike over threats to their pensions will be next: the unemployed or those who work in the private sector will be subtly encouraged to envy and resent them. Why should these people have enough for a decent life when they retire, whilst you will be in poverty? Direct your resentment at them, not at the people who ruined your prospects. While the super-rich enjoy their banquet, we are constantly being manipulated into fighting over the crumbs.

Sadly, in Britain, it has ever been thus. In his book ‘The Victorians’ A.N. Wilson describes how the Chartists, with their very modest demands for improved representation in Parliament, were suppressed by the ruling class, but only with the assistance of a sizeable portion of the working class. On 10th April 1848 the Third Chartist Petition was to be presented to Parliament, and government paranoia was at fever pitch. The military and police were mobilised in every city, guns were mounted at the Bank of England, but amazingly, in London alone, 85,000 special constables were recruited. As Wilson points out, "The truth is, as Marx saw very clearly, that there is a genuine difference of interest between the workers and the bourgeoisie. Any dissent from such a view… a gigantic con." But still, only 20,000 people turned out to support the Chartists' demands, and 85,000 of their fellow citizens volunteered to suppress them. It seems that the British people deplore disorder far more than they deplore poverty or injustice.

As Roger Scruton’s Dictionary of Political Thought says, "Conservatism is usually criticised as the ideology of class domination, and as the political practice which ensures that those presently holding power will continue to do so, while extracting a spurious and deceived consent from the classes that are subject to, and victims of, their rule."

Only when people refuse to be deceived any longer can we hope for social and economic justice.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement.

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