Posts Tagged ‘Chile’

The Coalition’s Secret Courts and Communist Yugoslavia’s Gulags

February 15, 2014

gulag_1

Inmates at a Soviet Gulag

Many bloggers, including myself, have raised the issue of the Coalition’s increasing intolerance, its attempts to close down freedom of speech and the press through legislation such as the anti-lobbying bill. Vox Political yesterday reblogged a piece showing that Britain had fallen from 29th to 33rd place in the world for press freedom following the government’s campaign against the Guardian for publishing the revelations of comprehensive British and American secret surveillance.

One of the most alarming developments in the Coalition’s creation of an increasingly authoritarian and dictatorial state are the secret courts, which have been set up with the full backing of those champions of freedom and democracy, the Lib Dems. Another Angry Voice has particularly blogged and commented on them. He gives this brief description of them:

For those of you that don’t know about what the Tory “Secret Courts” bill entails, here’s a brief description: As it now stands, defendants (or claimants in civil cases) can be excluded from the hearings where their fates are decided; they will not be allowed to know what the case against them is; they will not be allowed to enter the courtroom; they will not be allowed to know or challenge the details of the case; and they will not be allowed representation from their own lawyer, but will instead be represented (in their absence) by a security-cleared “special advocate”.

See his post ‘Secret Courts: The Very Illiberal Democrats’ at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/secret-courts-very-illiberal-democrats.html

This legislation places Britain alongside the nightmarish perversions of justice described in fiction by Franz Kafka in his novels The Castle and The Trial, in which the hero has been arrested and repeatedly interrogated for an unknown crime. He does not know himself what he is supposed to have done, and the authorities never tell him. This grotesque injustice was the reality in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Under the Ba’ath legal code, there were a set of laws, knowledge of whose existence was also prohibited and for which individuals could be arrested and tried. I can remembering hearing about this through the BBC’s radio coverage of the arrest and eventual execution of Bazoft, a British journalist of Iranian origin, who was arrested for spying by Hussein’s regime. The passage last March of the Secret Courts bill, and the government’s attempt to prosecute the Guardian for Snowden and clamp down on other forms of dissent, raises the real possibility that such a grotesque miscarriage of justice will also occur in Britain.

Apart from Hussein’s Iraq, it is also very, very much like the totalitarian regimes of the Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, where anyone considered to be a threat to the regime was subject to summary arrest and deportation into the concentration camps and gulags. Further communication with them was difficult, if not impossible. In both regimes those arrested simply disappeared. For the Nazis, such unexplained disappearances were a deliberate part of the system of arrest and imprisonment. It was called ‘Nacht und Nebel’, or ‘Night and Fog’, and was intended to cause even further terror of the Nazi dictatorship.

Djilas

Milovan Djilas, Yugoslav Communist leader and dissident

The Yugoslavian Communist regime of Marshal Tito also established a gulag after it’s split with Stalin in the late 1940s. The Yugoslavs were resisting Stalin’s attempt to turn their country into a satellite of the Soviet Union. Undercover of diplomatic missions, joint Yugoslav-Soviet companies and even a Soviet film of Tito’s victory in the Second World War and the rise of the Communist government in Yugoslavia, Stalin’s regime attempted to recruit spies against Tito’s government. The international Communist organisation, the Cominform, was also used to recruit agents and spread discontent in order to undermine Yugoslavia’s independence.

The regime responded with the summary arrest of anyone suspected of pro-Soviet sympathies and the establishment of a gulag for them on Goli Otok, or Bare Island. Milovan Djilas, a former Vice-President of Yugoslavia, President of the National Assembly and later leading dissident, describes the system of arrests and the brutal conditions under which the inmates were held in his autobiographical account of the regime and his part in it, Rise and Fall.

He notes the camp’s extra-legal basis, and the way it was established at the highest authority.

The camp for Cominformists on Goli Otok (“Bare Island”) in the northern Adriatic was organized without a legal basis. At first, Cominformists were simply taken into custody and shipped there. A law was passed later covering obligatory “socially useful labor,” as the camp activities were innocently designated for official purposes. Moreover, not even the Politburo, or its inner circle, the Secretariat, ever made any decision about the camp. It was made by Tito himself and implemented through Rankovic’s State Security apparatus. (p. 235).

After examining the motives behind those who joined the Cominform against the Yugoslavian regime, including personal rivalry and frustration at their lack of personal advancement, Djilas describes the harsh conditions in the camp.

Sentences to Goli Otok were imposed by the security organ. By law, no term could exceed two years, but there was no limit on its renewal. Inmates who languished there for ten years were not uncommon.

On his passage to the island the prisoner was shoved-in fact, hurled- to the bottom of the boat. Then, when he emerged on Goli Otok, he had to run the gauntlet. This was a double line of inmates, who vied with one another in hitting him. If gouged eyes were a rarity, broken teeth and ribs were not. There were also incorrigibles, who were subjected to lynching, sometimes spontaneous, sometimes not.

The inmates had no visitation rights. They received neither letters nor packages-at least not in the early period. Until word leaked out unofficially, their families had no idea where they were; letters were addressed to a number, as to soldiers in wartime. Their labor was not only hard and compulsory, but often meaningless as well. One of the punishments was carrying heavy stones back and forth. Work went on in all kinds of weather. What stuck in their tormented memories, as I can well understand, was labouring on rocky ground in scorching heat. State Security got carried away with making a productive enterprise out of Goli Otok, for this was the period when the Security bosses were tinkering with our economy and founding export firms; yet nothing came of this “production” but suffering and madness. Then, when finally released, inmates were sworn to silence about the camp and its methods. This could have been taken for granted, yet little by little the truth came out anyway, especially after the fall of Rankovic in 1966. (pp. 241-2).

Tito was intent on suppressing the Cominform in Yugoslavia with as little bloodshed as possible. The camp was intended on ‘re-educating’ the political prisoners, rather than murdering them, a process that was nevertheless carried out with extreme brutality.

This nuance of his-on the head but not off with it-explains why so few Cominformists were killed. But it also became the basis for unimagined, unheard-of coercion, pressure, and torture on the island. There, re-education, or “head-knocking”, was made the responsibility of certain inmates- the “reconstructed” ones-who in effect collaborated with Security. The latter involved itself as little as possible, leaving the re-education to “self-managing units” made up of reconstructed inmates, who went to inhuman extreme to ingratiate themselves and win their own release. They were inventive in driving their fellow victims similarly to “reconstruct” themselves. There is no limit to the hatred and meanness of the new convert toward yesterday’s coreligionists. (p. 241).

Djilas makes it clear that many of those interned in the camp would not have been imprisoned if they had instead been tried in an open court.

But regardless of any such factor, there is no question that the vast majority of Cominformists would never have been sent to Goli Otok had the proceedings been the least bit legal, reasonable and undogmatic. People were arrested and committed to the camp for failure to report intimate “cominformist” conversations or for reading leaflets and listening to the short-wave radio. Subsequent victims included those who at the time of the resolution said that we ought to have attended the Bucharest meeting at which our party was condemned.

Djilas recognised that Communist ideology played a part in the construction of the camp and the terror they inflicted in order to destroy Stalin’s influence in Yugoslavia. He also cautions, however, against viewing such human rights abuses as a purely Communist phenomenon.

But the way we dealt with those arrested and their families-that was something else again. There was no need to behave as we did. That conduct sprang from our ideological dogmatism, from our Leninist and Stalinist methods, and, of course, in part from our Balkan traditions of reprisal.

But analyses can be left to historians and philosophers. My business is to get on with the tale, a tale of defeat and disgrace, not only for Yugoslav Communism but also for our times and humankind. If the Yugoslav gulag, like the Soviet, is explained purely in terms of the “inhuman” or “antihuman” nature of Communism, that is an oversimplified judgment that in its way is just as ideological. Ideology, I think, was only a motivational expression, the appeal to an ideal, justifying the insane human yearning to be lord and master. Sending people off to camps is neither the invention nor the distinction of Communists. People like those of us at the top of the heap, with our ideals and absolute power,, are bound to throw our opponents into a camp. yet if the treatment of the inmates had come up for discussion-if discussion had not been precluded by Tito’s omnipotent will-different views would have emerged among us and more common-sense and human procedures would have been instituted. Some of us were aware of this paradox: a camp must be established, yet to do so was terrible. (pp. 236-7).

The Western press was also content not to report the existence of the forced labour camp.

Characteristic both of the time and of the relationships then unfolding was the attitude towards the press, Eastern as well as Western, toward the camp. The Western press by an large showed no interest in it, certainly no critical interest. The same could be said of the Western diplomatic corps. Whenever the persecution of Cominformists came up, as if by agreement these diplomats displayed a tacit understand: our independence and the state were threatened by a combination of external and internal pressure. But there was also a note of ambiguity, of malicious joy behind the Westerners’ fa├žade of understanding: let the Communists exterminate each other and so reveal the very nature of Communism. (pp. 242-3).

All these elements are present in the policies the Coalition has adopted towards press freedom and the unemployed. The secret courts set up by the Coalition would allow those deemed to be a threat to be tried without the normal conventions to ensure justice and protect the accused until they are found guilty. This is important: in British law, you are innocent until the court is convinced of your guilt, and the onus is on the prosecution to prove their case.

The Coalition have also shown themselves more than willing to use psychological techniques to indoctrinate their policies’ victims. The unemployment courses and forms drawn up with the advice of the Nudge Unit are designed so that the unemployed will blame themselves for their joblessness, rather than the economy.

Elements within the Conservative party have also at times called for the establishment of camps for individuals they judged to be a threat to the British state. One of the reasons behind the assassination of Airey Neave, Margaret Thatcher’s political mentor, in the 1970s by the INLA was because Neave had called for the establishment of internment camps in northern Ireland. And as workfare shows, there is a strong impulse towards using compulsory ‘voluntary’ labour to support big business in Britain, just as it was used in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, and, for that matter, Tito’s Yugoslavia.

Nor can the British press be depended on to guard traditional British freedoms of speech and justice. AS Mike over at Vox Political has shown, part of the reason for the marked decline in press freedom in this country is due to the Right-wing press’ collusion with the authorities in attacking the Guardian and Edward Snowden. It’s has been alleged by Lobster that in the 1980s the Sunday Times under Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil was a conduit for disinformation from the British security services. Certainly Neil has shown no qualms about making unsupported claims about Allende’s democratically elected Marxist government in Chile in order to support the coup led by Thatcher’s friend, General Pinochet.

These secret courts, the gagging laws and workfare have to be stopped now, before they develop into something exactly like the forced labour camps of the Nazis and Communists. And that has to start by voting out the Coalition.

Cameron Pic

Nick Clegg

David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Together their reforms are laying the foundations for a police state and forced labour camps.

Andrew Neil’s Lies Defending Pinochet’s Coup

January 16, 2014

A week or so ago I posted a few pieces on the BBC’s Right-wing political bias, with a number of commenters giving further information and their experiences of it, and individual journalists and presenters. One of these was Andrew Neil. Robin Ramsay, the editor of the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has also commented on Brillo Pad and his connection to the British intelligence agencies. He was moved to write one particular piece about Neil after the former editor of the Sunday Times wrote a piece in 22nd October 1998 issue of the Independent falsely accusing Salvador Allende of trying to turn Chile into a Soviet satellite state. Allende was the democratically elected, Marxist president of Chile, who was overthrown by General Pinochet. In an article entitled ‘Pinochet was a Vile Fascist but Allende was no hero’, Brillo wrote:

‘…within months of Allende taking power, armed gangs of leftist thugs invaded homes and took over factories… a relatively free society was on the brink of Marxist terror as Allende’s tanks took to the streets … we can be sure that if a nasty, torturing, murdering, Chilean Castro had emerged triumphant rather than Pinochet…’.

Ramsay wrote to Neil for further information on these allegations, and did not receive a reply. Neil also wrote in the same article that

‘The Americans did not become involved in Chile until they realised that it was being turned into a Marxist enclave by the Soviet Union’.

This is also refuted by Ramsay, who states that American interference in Chile began in 1964 before Allende took power. Ramsay concludes with the statement that when he was editor of the Sunday Times he printed a considerable amount of disinformation, that was provided to him by the British secret services. Ramsay considered that his piece on Chile was similarly a piece of such disinformation, and suggested that it may even have come from the material disseminated by the British and American intelligence services at the time of the coup itself. Neil at that was working at the Economist, which was also a conduit for official, secret service propaganda.

Resisting the Tories War on the Poor: Bring Back the Underground and Alternative Comics

December 24, 2013

As I’ve written in previous blog, one of the problems facing Left-wing opponents of the Coalition and its vile policies is how to get the message across, when the media are nearly all biased towards the Conservatives. One possibility may be to use comics and graphic novels, following the examples of the great underground and alternative comics that first appeared in the 1960s and ’70s, before expanding and changing, along with the rest of the comics world in the ’80s and ’90s. Two of the most famous examples of comics creators using the medium to make extremely serious political points were Brought to Light and Aargh in the 1980s. These were a response to atrocities committed by CIA-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua and the Thatcher government’s attempt to pass the now notorious Clause 28 respectively. This last piece of legislation was intended to prevent schools promoting homosexuality. Gays and libertarians were outraged by what they saw as the official promotion of homophobia, and feared that it would be followed by even more punitive legislation directed at gays themselves. Since Mrs Thatcher’s death, there has been some attempt to rehabilitate her regarding her attitude towards homosexuality. It’s been rightly observed that she did not personally hate gays, and that an attraction to one’s own sex was no obstacle to serving in her cabinet. Thatcher’s economic model was, however, Chile under the Fascist dictator General Pinochet, who was a personal friend of hers. At a time when homosexuality was far less tolerated than at present, there was a real fear that Thatcher would not only import Pinochet’s monetarism, but also follow him in destroying personal and political freedoms over here. Under the Right-wing totalitarianism Thatcher seemed ready to establish, gays would also be brutalised and persecuted, as well as other social and political groups the government deemed offensive or a threat. This was the background to the Fascist dystopia depicted in Moore’s and Lloyd’s comic strip and graphic novel, V for Vendetta.

Moore also contributed to Brought to Light, writing the strip ‘Shadowplay’, illustrated by the American comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz. ‘Shadowplay’ is a bitterly funny history of the way the CIA had backed Right-wing dictators and conspired to overthrow left-wing regimes, as well as engage in other, illegal and extremely unethical tactics across the world, as told in a sleazy bar by a cynical American eagle. It’s an example of the way comics, in the hands of good writers and artists, can be used to make deadly serious political points based on fact in a manner that it is entertaining as well as informative.

Shadowplay art

Art from ‘Shadowplay’ from Brought to Light, written by Alan Moore with art by Bill Sienkiewicz, showing the caricature-based artistic style used to make their point about the CIA infamous legacy of atrocity and human rights abuses.

Moore also contributed to Aargh!. This was a collection of strips, whose title was an acronym supposedly standing for ‘Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia’. Although it was a British response to Thatcher’s Clause 28, it followed a line of American underground gay comics from the 1970s, such as Harold Hedd, Barefootz and the lesbian comic, Dynamite Damsels, culminating in the anthology, Gay Comix, published by Kitchen Sink.

Aargh1

Page from Aargh!

The underground comics were largely a product of the 1960s Hippy counterculture, and much of their contents were based around drugs and sex. This is shown very much in the work of the best known of the underground comics creators, Robert Crumb, and Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a comic about the weird adventures of a group of hippy drug freaks. In the 1970s a number of explicitly political underground comics appeared, including Slow Death Funnies, Edu-Comics and Anarchy Comics. Slow Death produced a number of issues, each devoted to a particular topic, such as the medical-industrial complex, nuclear power, the campaign against the Vietnam War and Greenpeace. As well as satirical strips, they also included facts and figures. Edu-Comics also produced a number of individual comics devoted to particular issues, such as All-Atomic Comics (1976) and Energy Comics (1980), which attacked the nuclear power industry.

Atomic Comics

Pages from All-Atomic Comics showing the mixture of satirical strip and factual contents.

Britain also had a number of political underground comics, such as the Optimist and Committed Comics. The Optimist appeared in 1976, and featured strips that discussed squatting, the dole, abortion and hypothermia amongst British pensioners.

Optimist

Cover from The Optimist.

Committed Comix, for its part, had strips discussing Northern Ireland, gay rights and the rise of the National Front.

Back to the Thirties

Back to the Thirties strip from Committed Comix, warning of the rise of the extreme Right-wing National Front.

These underground comics helped create a tradition of highly political comics that continued well into the 1990s, with titles such as Downside. This was a soap opera set in Thatcher’s Britain, which strongly criticised her government and its policies, and which ironically used quotes from her for each issue’s titles.

Downside Thatcher

Other comics in the 1980s devoted to particular contemporary issues include Strip AIDS, El Salvador: A House Divided and Palestine. Alan Moore also produced another political comic in consultation with an American conscientious objectors’ group, Real War Stories. This was intended to promote its anti-War message through presenting the reality of armed conflict, based on the experiences of real soldiers.

Apart from these Underground and alternative comics, mainstream comics also became far more adult with an increasing demand from their readers for them to include more mature themes and issues. One issue of Daredevil attempted to show the horrific effects of drugs on American schoolchildren, while another superhero comic, The Vigilante, dealt with child abuse. In Britain a range of comics were produced by Fleetway, aimed at readers over the age of 16. These included Crisis, and its strip, ‘Third World War’. This was about a pair of teenagers drafted in to serve the multinational food corporations as they exploited the Developing World.

Crisis Cover

Cover of Crisis.

Most of these new, adult strips didn’t last very long. The new emphasis on gritty realism and politics did not attract the younger readers, on whom the industry traditionally depended, and the comics industry in general suffered a massive collapse after the initial boom of the 1990s. Nevertheless, despite this decline, 2000 AD has survived. Many of its strips, including Judge Dredd, were sharply satirical. As the millennium approached, for example, the comic decided to celebrate the approaching year of its title with a satirical strip harking back to Mach 1, one of the very strips in the new comic. Mach 1 was based very much on the Six Million Dollar Man. Instead of bionics, however, Mach 1 owed his massively increased strength and speed to ‘compu-puncture hyperpower’. To help him control it, Mach 1 had a special computer implanted in his head which gave him advice. 2000 AD took this early strip, and reworked it into a strip satirising Tony Blair, the then current prime minister. He appeared as Blair 1, with his inbuilt computer advisor, Dr Spin. Two of the problems facing the fictional PM was how to support single mothers, as well as what should be done about the abandoned mines left through the closure of the mining industry by Major’s regime. Dr Spin’s advice is to solve these problems by combining them, so that the single mothers are then sent down the mines. A long line of them appear in characteristic miner’s gear, singing ‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go! We work all day for rubbish pay, thank you, Tonio!’ Other politicians skewered by the strip also included Chris Patten and Anne Widdicombe.

The 1980s also saw the appearance of Diceman, a comic in which the individual strips were adventure games that could be played by the reader, and whose narrative and ending depended on the choice they made as they progressed through the game. It was the graphic successor not only to similar, text-based games like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but also to the various ‘Have Your Own … Adventure’ books aimed at younger readers, which used comic strips as the format for similar adventure games. Diceman was a spin-off from 2000 AD, and many of the games were based on its strips and characters, including Slaine and Nemesis the Warlock. It also shared the satirical slant of its parent, and several of its games attacked the leaders of the British and American governments. Thus, Diceman ran the strips Thatcher: A Dole-Playing Game, and one in which the reader played Ronald Reagan. This was illustrated by that veteran of underground comics and political subversion, Hunt Emerson. These were humorous in tone. One of the problems presented to the reader in the Reagan strip is that, as the present, your popularity is falling. The way to regain popularity is to launch an investigation into your own family tree, in the hope that a suitably popular and glamorous ancestral link can be found. The reader thus spun the dice to decide, who the investigation would say Reagan was related to. The highest numbers produced the most popular relatives, who duly boosted your score as Ronald Reagan. The most popular of these was the Queen, followed by ‘a lot of Irishmen’. The lowest score, however, made you related to Bonzo, Reagan’s chimpanzee fellow star from his film, Bedtime for Bonzo. The strip also made extremely serious and alarming factual points, such as when it discussed some of the occasions in which mistakes and malfunctions had left the world a millimetre away from nuclear war. One of these, for example, was when a technician accidentally dropped a spanner down the shaft of a nuclear silo.

A number of alternative comics have also appeared in Britain, which also include a strongly political element. These include Pete Loveday’s Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man, whose hero is a hippy going from one weird experience to another. Like the Underground comics before it, much of the humour in this centres around the alternative culture and the various festivals that had appeared by the ’90s, and drugs. It also showed and satirised the demoralising experience of job hunting, government cuts to unemployment benefit at the Job Centre, and the callous attitude of hospital administrators, eager to get people out of their hospital beds as quickly as possible in order to accommodate the next person in the queue.

Russel Job Hunting

The reality of looking for a job, as depicted in Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man.

Russel DofE

Russell finds that Unemployment Benefits are being replaced by payment in kind. From Russell: Part 2.

Russel Hospital Admin

Apart from the political comics themselves, many contemporary British comics artists and writers entered the field through the Underground comics, including Brian Bolland, Angus McKie, Dave Gibbons, Bryan Talbot, Hunt Emerson and Steve Bell, known for his political cartoons in the Guardian and the Indepedent, like Maggie’s Farm. There are also a large number of younger comics artists and writers out there in the wider fan culture, many of whom have got around problems of finding a commercial publisher by publishing their work themselves. Comics are also no longer confined to print and hardcopy. A few artists have taken to the web to publish their work. There is thus a large pool of talent available to create such comics, and the developments in comics publishing over the last couple of decades means that a political comic attacking the governments’ welfare policies could be published independently, or on-line and so get around the problem of finding a commercial publisher that way. Graphic novels have established comics as a medium in which serious issues can be discussed, and the growth of comics and their readership has meant that Waterstone’s now has a section devoted to comics and graphic novels. I also believe that Forbidden Planet would also be willing to stock such a comic. As well as conventional, mainstream comics like Batman, Superman, Spiderman and so on, Forbidden Planet has also stocked the independent, alternative and underground comics, including some of the very political work published by Knockabout. It might even be worth some of the comics companies republishing some of the old satirical strips. Margaret Thatcher has passed away, but her shadow still looms large over the British political landscape, with politicians on both the Right and the Left presenting themselves as her political heir and successor. It would thus be a timely reminder of how much suffering she caused in her day. And some of the issues discussed in the British undergrounds are still all too relevant. The references in The Optimist to pensioners suffering from hypothermia is, tragically, one of these. There was shock a few months ago when it was revealed just how many tens of thousands of senior citizens had died of the cold the previous winter.

Rather than a comic, published in serial instalments, I think the best way of using the comic strip to satirise and attack the government would be a graphic novel, or anthology, dedicated to the issue of poverty and the Coalition’s war on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, like Brought to Light, Aargh! and the others in the 1980s and 1990s. The harshness of the government’s policies and the immense suffering they have created, such as the very many disabled people, who have committed suicide after being found fit for work by ATOS, surely warrant a similar treatment to the issues graphic novels explored and publicised in those decades. I am not saying that such a graphic novel or comic would be sufficiently influential to persuade the public to vote Cameron, Clegg and the others out. Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye and one of the creators of British satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, was once asked on Radio 4 whether he thought satire could change anything. He answered, ‘No’, and pointing out that no matter how viciously Spitting Image caricatured and attacked Mrs Thatcher and her government, people still kept voting for her. Nevertheless, if told with wit and style, such a graphic novel or comic might still reach and affect some people, who would otherwise find politics boring and help change the minds of those, who would otherwise quietly accept the Right-wing media’s misleading reporting and views of these issues. If even some people change their mind as a result, or are encouraged to vote against the government or become politically active against their policies, then such a graphic novel or comic will have succeeded.

A political comic attacking the government and its welfare policies would doubtless be extremely controversial. This is nothing new. The underground comics were notoriously controversial, and in the 1970s were the subjects of a series of obscenity cases in America that decimated the underground scene. Their counterparts over this side of the pond were similarly attacked. I remember that back in the ’70s and ’80s Knockabout always seemed to be raided by the police. Martin Barker in his book, Comics: Ideology, Power & the Critics, has also pointed out how mainstream children’s comics have also been the frequent target of official disapproval. Many of these were on the grounds that they were cheap rubbish that kept children away from reading proper literature, or that they indoctrinated their younger readers with the wrong values, either from the subversive Left or capitalist right. Barker wrote the book while Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister, and popular literature, particularly comics, was coming under increasing attack. In the postscript to the book Barker makes a passionate defence of comics in the face of growing demands for censorship. Although comics and graphic novels are now better accepted than they were in the 1980s, his comments are still relevant today.

‘In this book I have worked hard at being the analyst. Assessing and weighing, investigating and evaluating. Not above a bit of anger when I find bad theory and empirical misrepresentation, but basically cool. Perhaps every now and then a bit of laughter or passion when something I really love comes up before my eyes, but most of the time outside it all. This is, of course, not true at all. I live in this damned country at this damned time and comics are part of my and my children’s lives. And I now say passionately: let us have as many of the things as we possibly can. In the face of the capital-calculating machine called Thatcherism which used morality like murderers use shotguns, all the little things like comics matter. Little by little, the cohorts of the ‘competitive-minded’ seek to shut down, enclose, militarise our imaginations. Comics prise open the bars just a little. Dreaming, eh? Give that chap a ‘short, sharp shock’! I am quite willing to say passionately: all those in whom humanity remains prized about the ‘laws of the market’ have no business (you own none, you have none) helping to block the dreaming that people manage to do. Imagination, fantasy, call it what-you-will, is not some fixed drum which, filled with the wrong stuff, will then be unavailable for other purposes. For heaven’s sake, let us have dreamers; or we will have hell. My defence of the comics is, to me, in the end a defence of the right to imagine.’ (p. 301). He then proceeds to attack comics’ left-wing critics for their censorship, which they share with Thatcher.

Comics and graphic novels have a long tradition of highlighting social and political problems, and satirising and attacking repressive governments and exploitative organisations and corporations. This tradition provides a fertile ground for attacking the present, repressive, exploitative government, and I’m sure there are plenty of talented and enthusiastic young comics writers and artists willing to do this. Such a graphic novel may not be successful, but it would be worth trying, and might, just might, help change a few minds.

On the subject of the way comics in the 1980s began to tackle serious, adult issues, here is an edition of the 1980s documentary series, Signals from 1989, I found on youtube. Entitled ‘The Day Comics Grew Up’, it features interviews with Alan Moore, Archie Goodwin, John Byrne, Tom Veitch and Jim Baikie, amongst other writers and artists, talking about their work and the demand for comics to include such mature, serious subjects.

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Sources

Martin Barker, Comics: Ideology, Power & the Critics (Manchester: Manchester University Press 1989).

Pete Loveday, Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man (London: John Brown Publishing 1991).

Pete Loveday, Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man, Part 2 (London: John Brown Publishing 1993).

Roger Sabin, Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art (London: Phaidon 1996).

Banned from TV Under Thatcher: Maggie’s MIlitant Tendency

October 2, 2013

The Conservative party is always keen to watch for and denounced supposed left-wing bias in the BBC. There is an entire website, Biased BBC, which is full of such accusations. The Conservatives have, however, used their influence when in power to censor and suppress any material of which they didn’t approve. I’ve already blogged about how Thames TV lost its broadcasting licence because of Thatcher’s disapproval of the World in Action documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’. Another documentary that incurred Thatcher’s displeasure was the Panorama edition, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’. Mainstream political parties and organisations, such as Labour, are frequently targeted for infiltration by extremists, such as the various Communist sects. Called ‘revolutionary entryism’ by the extreme Left, the process is designed to allow the smaller, more extreme party to be able to take over its larger, more mainstream host. The extremists are thus able get into power, which they could not do on their own behalf. The nascent Communist party tried these tactics in Weimar Germany when the SPD split following the Council Revolution of 1919. The Communists tried to infiltrate the more extreme, break-away faction, the USPD, with the intention of breaking it up. This would remove the party as an alternative to the Communists. At the same time they hoped to radicalise the more extreme members of the USPD, and so get them to join the Communist party. It didn’t work, and the USPD eventually reunited with the parent party, the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour party.

Similar tactics were tried in the ’70s and ’80s by other Marxist groups, which tried to get into the British Labour party. Harry Conroy records in his biography of Jim Callaghan (London: Haus Publishing Ltd 2006) hearing a conversation between a Maoist and another extremist about how they intended to infiltrate the Labour party. In the 1980s there was the controversy over the activities within Labour of the Militant Tendency, a radical group, which seemed intent on rigging elections and other activities in order to seize power within the party. Eventually they were expelled by the then leader, Neil Kinnock. This was, however, used by the Conservatives to show that Labour was full of splits, with a weak leadership, and that it had been infiltrated by ‘Reds’. Once Labour got in, these infiltrators would use their power to set up a Communist dictatorship. It was the classic ‘Red Scare’, and was run by the Sun. It also supplied the basis for one of Frederick Forsythe’s novels, in which MI% agents have to stop a Labour party infiltrated by Communists from gaining power and turning the country into a puppet of the Soviet Union. The plot appears to represent genuine fears on the part of the CIA and MI5. James Angleton, the head of the CIA, believed that Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent, a belief shared by his colleagues in MI5 and in the Conservative party. One of those who bought this rubbish was one Margaret Thatcher. Sadly, the Red scaremongering didn’t end with the suspicions about Wilson. In the 1990s the Times libelled Michael Foot by claiming that he was a Soviet agent codenamed ‘Agent Boot’. So much for the Times as a centre of journalistic excellence.

What was not widely known at the time was that the Conservatives were also afraid that they had similarly been infiltrated by the National Front and other Far-Right organisations. A 1983 report by the Young Conservatives concluded that ‘organised infiltration is a reality’. They identified the Fascist groups that had infiltrated the Party as WISE, Tory Action and the London Swinton Circle, as well as David Irving’s Focus Policy Group. A number of Conservative MPs, which belonged to some of these groups were also suspected of NF membership or sympathies. These included Harvey Proctor, Ronald Bell and Gerard Howarth, as well as George Kennedy Young, a former deputy head of MI6, who had almost taken over the Monday Club in the 1970s, and who was particularly active in Tory Action.

The Tory party was also faced with a series of public scandals where members of the party publicly declared their support for Racial Nationalism and the Far Right. I distinctly remember a report on the Six O’clock News about the leader of either one of the Young Conservative groups or Union of Conservative Students in Northern Ireland, Tinnies, who had publicly embraced the Front’s racism. Tinnies declared of himself and his followers that ‘we are not Fascists. We are Thatcherite achievers. But if Mrs Thatcher does not want us, we will go to the Far Right.’ I’ve heard since that it was because of Fascist infiltration and sympathies amongst the membership that the Tories wound up the Union of Conservative Students, and replaced it with Conservative Future.

Larry O’Hara, a historian of Fascist politics in this period and a staunch anti-Fascist, has argued that there was no organised infiltration of the Tory party in the 1980s. The NF members, who joined the Tories, according to O’Hara, did so due to disillusionment with the NF after its catastrophic performance in the 1979 bye-election. Moreover, according to O’Hara, the actual core membership of the BNP is small, perhaps only about 200 members. Most of its members leave after about two years as they are simply anti-White immigration and have no interest in Fascist ideology. Andrew Brons, then the chairman of the NF, and the leader of the ‘Strasserite’ faction in 1984 vehemently denied that the NF had any such policy. He stated ‘the idea that we, a radical, Racial Nationalist party, should seek to infiltrate the unsavoury corpse of the Conservative party is so ludicrous that is should not need to be denied.’ Nevertheless, at the time the idea that the Fascist fringe had infiltrated the Conservative party was all too credible. Mrs Thatcher’s model of a monetarist state was General Pinochet’s Chile, and she herself was friends with the Chilean dictator. The Fascist future depicted in Moore’s ‘V for Vendetta’ strip seemed all too likely to come true. The BBC’s long-running documentary series, Panorama, investigated the allegations that the Tories had indeed been infiltrated. The resulting programme, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency, was not, however, broadcast as Thatcher had it suppressed.

In fact long before the Thatcher administration the membership of the Conservative Party and various Fascist organisations had overlapped. In the immediate period after the First World War Right-wing Tories had formed militantly anti-Socialist, anti-Semitic groups such as the British Fascisti. The first editor of the BNP after it was formed from the merger of the White Defence League and National Labour Party in 1960 was Andrew Fountaine. Fountaine was a Norfolk landowner, who had fought for the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Fountaine had been adopted by the Tories in 1949 as their candidate for Chorley. He was later thrown out of the party after he made a speech at the Conservative Party Conference criticising it for allowing Jews to gain important public offices. he then stood as an Independent Conservative in the 1950 election, only losing it by 341 votes. In 1958 he formed his own National Front, which was dissolved at the foundation of the BNP. In the 1970s and 1980s the National Front had a deliberate policy of trying to recruit members of the Conservative party, as well as alienated Whites in inner city areas. David Irving’s Focus Policy Group had made repeated attempts to purchase the mailing list of Conservative activists.

Other links between the Conservatives and the Far Right was through the various anti-immigration groups, such as the Race Preservation Society. These brought together Fascist organisations such as the BNP and Northern League as well as members of the Tory party. They were backed by wealthy private individuals, which allowed them to publish a series of magazines and pamphlets. These included Sussex News, Midland News, the British Independent, New Nation and RPS News. It has been said, however, that the RPS was not a Fascist organisation, but a federation of racial populist, anti-immigrant groups. WISE, whose initials stood for Welsh, Irish, Scots, English, was another racist, anti-immigrant group also maintained contact with the both the Conservative Party and the Fascist fringe. In the 1970s following the immigration to Britain of Asian refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda, a number of former Conservatives joined the NF, such as John Kingsley Read and Roy Painter. These embarked on a struggle for power within the NF, which culminated in Read replacing Tyndall as chairman in 1975. The Monday Club was another society in which the Conservatives mixed with members of the NF. At an anti-immigration rally in September 1972 held by the Monday Club, the NF provided the stewards and 400 members of the audience. After George Kennedy Young was defeated in his bid to become chairman, the NF was gradually excluded from the Club. The Club ultimately presented their books for examination by Lesley Wooler, of the Jewish 62 group, to make sure there were no more anti-Semites within it. Despite this, the Monday Club still retained a reputation for racism, especially after various anti-immigration rants by Norman Tebbit, one of the Club’s members and member of Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet. So embarrassing is the Club’s reputation that about a decade ago David Cameron officially announced that he was severing the link between the Tory party and the Club.

The Tory party has nevertheless had links and shared members with the extreme Right over the years. This eventually became so embarrassing for Thatcher that she had the Beeb’s investigation into it pulled from the airwaves. This demonstrates the Tory party’s own willingness to use censorship and manipulate the news when th threatens their hold in power. In this respect, they may act precisely like the Fascist organisations from which they are so keen to distance themselves.

Meanwhile, here’s Spitting Image’s satirical suggestion of where Maggie that the idea for her policies.
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It’s on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2DnW5uC1_A.

Sources

Larry O’Hara, ‘Notes from the Underground: British Fascism 1974-92 – Part 1, 1974-83, in Lobster 23: 15-20 (June 1992).

Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987).

Another Angry Voice on 9/11, and Global Anti-Freedom Movements Backed by America

September 12, 2013

9/11 is, of course, the anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre that led to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Angry Yorkshireman has another, excellent piece on his blog, commenting on this and demolishing the US claim that they are the defenders of global freedom. He points out that long before the Taliban became our enemy, they were the West’s allies against the Russians in Afghanistan. The West has also supported militant Islamists in Kosovo, in the former Yugoslavia, and is now supporting them against Assad in Syria. He also describes how the Americans supported the overthrow of the Marxist, but democratically elected regime of Allende in Chile as part of a campaign to implement the extreme free trade, monetarist policies of the Chicago school. Under Operation Condor the US worked to install further right-wing, military dictatorships in South America, and then with these regimes to establish similar dictatorships in Meso-America under Operation Charly. The Angry One concludes

‘The 40th anniversary of the US backed military coup in Chile will pass virtually unnoticed in the United States and great swathes of the public will continue to believe the comforting lies that the US has a history of promoting democracy and freedom, rather than a demonstrable history of deliberately and callously undermining them.

The millions of victims of the vile US backed Latin American dictatorships are not the only people that should be remembered on September the 11th. The countless global victims of the vile “greed is a virtue” neoliberal pseudo-economic ideology devised by the Chicago boys, supported by the US government and born in Chile on this day 40 years ago are also just as worthy of remembrance as the victims of the September 2001 atrocities.’

One of the interesting points the Angry One raises is the fact the Argentinian Junta installed by the US replaced the regime of Isabel Peron. This raises the issue of the influence of Peronism in Argentinian politics. Juan Peron was indeed a thug and mass-murderer, but he also seems to have been motivated by a genuine concern to aid the poor. James Dunkerley, the Director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of London, in his book, Warriors and Scribes: Essays on the Politics of Latin America, notes that it is a peculiarity of South American politics Peronism and similar dictatorships take the place in South America of Social Democratic – democratic socialist – parties in Europe. Now Right-wing American authors, such as Jonah Goldberg, have attempted to discredit socialism in America by lumping it in with Fascism. In their eyes, Fascism is a left-wing movement, despite the fact that Mussolini gained power by declaring he supported Free Trade and the Manchester School, and sat with the rest of the Right-wing parties, rather than the socialists and Communists on the Left in the Italiam parliament before it was overthrown and replaced by his personal dictatorship. It has got to the point where American Republican, and their counterparts in Britain, have referred to the Fascist BNP as ‘the Left-wing BNP’. Now this can work both ways. As well as rejecting any equation between democratic socialism and Fascism, I also suggest that instead of using just ‘Fascist’ to refer to any Right-wing dictatorship, we should describe Pinochet’s and similar, free-market regimes as exactly what they are: monetarist, economic libertarian, and carry on describing them as such until the view that such economic policies are automatically associated with freedom is thoroughly discredited.