MURDER INCORPORATED: Empire/Genocide/Manifest Destiny

Book Three: Perfecting Tyranny

by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Stephen Vittoria, Foreword by Angela Davis

Prison Radio, San Francisco CA, 2020, 420 pp., $20, ISBN  978-7346489-1-1 (softcover) also available as hardcover and e-book (softcover $25 including shipping from Prison Radio, PO Box 411074, SF CA 94141,

Reviewed by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action LA-People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)

The culminating third volume in the history of US empire and the resistance to it by political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and film-maker Stephen Vittoria is “passionately dedicated to young people”, and reminds them, in the words of Glinda the Good witch in the film The Wizard of Oz, “‘You’ve always had the power…’ –the bastards just don’t want you to know it.”

So despite the sub-title, “Perfecting Tyranny,” this volume examines not only the power of the state and the rulers, through mechanisms such as control of the media, mass surveillance, and the coercive power of the law and the courts, but also the contradictions within that system of power, and the countervailing power of the people, as it has and can be exercised in freedom struggles, ‘underground’ media, and a culture of solidarity and resistance.

In a series of hard-hitting, graphic and dynamic chapters, Abu-Jamal and Vittoria examine and uncover a long history of the use of corporate media to manufacture consent for war and repression; the use of drugs, as well as the war on drugs, to control the population; the empire’s dealings with women and with the Black freedom struggle; the role of the so-called “rule of law,” and in particular the US Supreme Court, in maintaining the disordered hierarchy of power and material inequality; and the deep roots of what has come to be called surveillance capitalism in intelligence gathering and covert operations directed against the US population and dissidents within it, such as Operation Shamrock, in which the fledgling NSA monitored every telegram into or out of the US starting in 1945.

But every chapter also examines the threats to empire, oppression and exploitation that such methods of domination and repression were designed to control. These include the Black press, the “power of truth” and the disruptive consequences of revelation of such programs and other forms of  whistleblowing, and the organized power of social movements and labor. The book brings to light the dialectic between these forces of popular and elite power, between resistance and repression, such as in the development of McCarthyism and repressive labor legislation in response to a massive strike wave by workers, including returning GIs, in 1946. The book gives voice to dissidents at all levels of society, including the critiques of the inadequacies of the US Constitution by retired Supreme Court Justices, as well as the efforts to sanitize and defang the scope and impact of radicals in US history, such as Helen Keller, Ida B. Wells, George Carlin or the Media PA Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI, which stole the files that revealed the extent of FBI snooping and exposed COINTELPRO, a covert program of infiltration, disruption and even assassination of domestic dissidents.

Fittingly, the final chapter is titled simply “NO” and deals with the insights and enduring cultural impact of Woody Guthrie and Gil Scott-Heron, and the power of their songs as both shield and sword against imperial might.

Sadly, a perspective on the current pandemic is beyond the book’s scope. The  critique of Bill Gates, for example, deals only with the monopoly power of Microsoft and Gates’s role in the repressive power of Big Data, but not the impact of his “philanthropic” endeavors in the field of public health.

This volume and its two predecessors, Dreaming of Empire and America’s Favorite Pasttime, are all available from Prison Radio, which also records and makes available Mumia’s audio commentaries (often reprinted in Change Links) and those of other imprisoned freedom fighters. Their publication represents an enormous gift to the young resisters who are shaping the future, and all three merit reading and re-reading for the lessons of history about the nature of the implacable enemy we face, and the capacity of the people to endure and overcome. Please, though they are available from Amazon, order them directly from Prison Radio — Amazon is a huge part of the problem these books so effectively diagnose.

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