Sorry, No. You Are Not Living In Oceania Airstrip One.

Cover of "Nineteen Eighty-Four"From my comrade Terry Glavin:

If we are to turn to the great George Orwell in this hour of our NSA Deep-State Surveillance Machine disorientation – is it even possible that the Washington Post and the Guardian could have mucked things up this badly? – the overwhelming evidence is against the claim that it should be Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I set out my case in the Ottawa Citizen today: Big Brother Isn’t Watching You.

If it’s Orwell’s guidance we need at the moment – and when would Orwell’s counsel not come in handy? -a far more pertinent text might be Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, the essay that synthesizes Orwell’s lifelong concerns about the mortal perils of euphemism and the virtues of precision and plain speaking.
It was Orwell’s habit to rail, as he does in that essay, against the sort of rhetoric that can “make lies sound truthful.” To allow that journalism is quite capable of performing that ugly trick, too, is to be led directly to the sort of journalism underlying the NSA-PRISM rumpus at hand, which now consists mainly of a great unraveling of a whole lot of mischief made by the reliably sinister Glenn Greenwald, the creepy Laura Poitras and the sad little paranoid.
I’m banging on a bit about Orwell in the Citizen today not only because everybody keeps bringing him up but also because I’m a bit of an Orwell anorak. I taught a course on Orwell’s life and legacy in my stint as the University of Victoria’s Harvey Southam-Stevenson Lecturer in Journalism a couple of years ago. Don’t get me started because I won’t shut up.Orwell’s legacy of integrity and honesty is not a torch that has been picked up by the Washington Post and the Guardian in recent days. Snowden can’t even claim to be a “whistleblower” in any conventional meaning of that venerable term. He has exposed no wrongdoing, shed light on no lie, and exposed no criminal act. There has been edifying contemplation and reflection, mind you. For instance Christian Caryl’s thoughtful and illuminating essay in Foreign Policy, composed around the question: What’s Worse? The NSA or the East German Stasi? Avert your gaze to avoid this spoiler: “Definitely the Stasi.”

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WikiLeaks, Michael Moore, Yoani Sanchez and real dissidence

Terry Glavin

Image by Jonathon Narvey via Flickr

If you have (or even if you haven’t) been following the stories about the WikiLeaks revelations about Michael Moore’s film Sicko and the Cuban state, please read this very thorough article by Terry Glavin (original here), and also Yoani Sanchez’s account of a real Cuban hospital, and Terry’s more recent post on journalism in Cuba.

Some things I’ve read lately

La Brigada on George Orwell:

I observed the fiftieth anniversary of Orwell’s death by re-reading Crick’s biography of the man. It is a remarkably fine achievement. This incongruous story appeals:
‘When Queen Elizabeth [the late Queen Mother], whose literary adviser was Osbert Sitwell, sent the Royal Messenger to Secker & Warburg for a copy [of Animal Farm] in November, he found them utterly sold out and had to go with horse, carriage, top hat and all, to the anarchist Freedom Bookshop, in Red Lion Square, where George Woodcock gave him a copy.’

Oliver Kamm on British Stalinists Andrew Murray and Kate Hudson:

Murray and Hudson are members of a group called the Communist Party of Britain. You’ll find that Ms Hudson’s idea of nuclear disarmament, as urged to a party gathering in 2006, is unusual, for here was the message from the platform:

‘Keith Bennett of the Korea Friendship and Solidarity Campaign said that the current crisis on the Korean peninsula had not been caused by the North Korean nuclear test.

‘”The context is one of unfinished business of a national liberation struggle against US imperialism,” he asserted.’

The national liberation struggle he has in mind is the triumph of what – since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein – has no rival as the worst, most nightmarish tyranny in the world.

Murray once wrote a short book called The Communist Party of Great Britain: A Historical Analysis to 1941. It’s not dated but it was published in the mid-1990s by a short-lived group called Communist Liaison. Here’s Murray’s analysis of the Communist Party’s attitude to Stalinist terror (page 74, emphasis added):

“Over the whole period of the CPGB’s existence, its relation to the USSR has been probably the most controversial issue, both within and without the Party. The Party has clearly paid a price for its defence of the first Socialist state in the world, particularly when it has subsequently been proved that that defence was based on misinformation and misjudgments. Yet the party could only judge on the information it had, and even that had to be handled in the context of the international class struggle in which the USSR was seen as playing (and actually did play) the most important role on the side of anti-fascism, anti-imperialism and social progress. That things happened in the USSR which were inexcusable and which ultimately prejudiced Socialism’s whole prospect is today undeniable. Whether Communists in the capitalist world could or should have done more than they did is much more contentious.”

In short, Murray believes that it’s an open question whether the Communist Party would have been right to protest against the Moscow Trials and the Great Terror.

Terry Glavin on the uses and abuses of history:

My good friend Peter Ryley has composed an important protest against that similarly popular abuse of history which sets out to simplistically conflate socialism with fascism and thus elide crucial distinctions between authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Equally detestable though these tyrannies may be, there’s no excuse for falling for propaganda so silly that it will have you playing games of connect-a-dot between Naziism and liberalism.

To properly interrogate this contemporary fad, you will unavoidably encounter its evil twin, which is to say you will find yourself staring at the ugliest face of European pro-Islamofascist leftism, as noted a while back by the always interesting Anti-German Translation. Their headline sums it up well enough: The Racism of Radical Islam’s Useful Idiots.

For further and necessary proofs of Peter’s case, historical evidence is in abundance in Enzo Traverso’s The Aporias of Marxism. He notes that too many German Jews kept faith for too long in the resilience of the identity they had incorporated within German society, and they were not alone in their mistake: “The workers’ movement was no more ready to deal with the catastrophe.” There were warnings, of course, most presciently from Leon Trotsky. But they want largely unheeded, owing to eejits making a similar kind of silly “liberalism equals fascism” mistake that’s popular today. “However, in 1933, Nazism unleashed its attack on the workers’ organizations, not on the Jews. Nazi anti‑Semitism developed gradually and inexorably, passing through several stages: first discrimination and the questioning of emancipation again (1933-35); then economic depredations and the adoption of a policy of persecution (1938-41); finally extermination (1941-45). The destruction of the workers’ movement was not a gradual process: it was, in fact, one of the conditions for the consolidation of the Nazi regime.” And some people obstinately refuse to learn from the great errors of history: “Marxist literature of the interwar period tended to explain Nazi anti-Semitism as a ‘tool’ of the ruling classes, without seeing in it a new phenomenon.”

Also: Bob’s father remembers Bertrand Russell. Max Dunbar and Paul Sagar on the left and China. Eamonn McDonagh on the smearing of Jacobo Timerman. Engels Defrocked and other book reviews in the Socialist Standard. RIP Nina Fishman.

Contradictions

‘Frank Ryan brought you whiskey in a brothel in Madrid
And you decked some fucking blackshirt who was cursing all the Yids…’

From The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn by The Pogues

That’s how Principia Dialectica kick off their tribute to Bob Doyle, the last of the Irish to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, who died on Valentine’s Day. Will Rubbish and Shiraz Socialist have also paid tribute.

Eamonn McDonagh notes that Frank Ryan was a man who spent the last four years of his life actively collaborating with Nazi Germany. Terry Glavin adds: “Aye. The same way Christy Moore ruined a perfectly good song.” He’s referring to “Viva La Quinta Brigada“:

Ten years before I saw the light of morning
A comradeship of heroes was laid.
From every corner of the world came sailing
The Fifteenth International Brigade.
They came to stand beside the Spanish people.
To try and stem the rising Fascist tide
Franco’s allies were the powerful and wealthy,
Frank Ryan’s men came from the other side.
Even the olives were bleeding
As the battle for Madrid it thundered on.
Truth and love against the force af evil,
Brotherhood against the Fascist clan.

Apparently, it was written while he was in Spain, reading from a book by Michael O’Riordan, The Connolly Column.

There is no doubt that Bob Doyle was a heroic man, but it is also worth thinking about the fact that he carried his Stalinism to his grave, and that the International Brigades helped crush the Spanish revolution and were responsible for the deaths of many non-Stalinist anti-fascists. As Bob commented, on the passing of Moe Fishman, another veteran of the Brigades,

As a child, the “International Brigade” conjured up the noblest form of heroism. As I got older, and developed politically, I came to see the ignoble side of the International Brigade, its use by Moscow to destroy dissident forms of anti-fascism in Spain. I realised things were not as black and white as fascism versus anti-fascism. So the passing of people like Fishman touches me in another way too: the tragedy of noble impulses used so wrongly.