Posts Tagged ‘David Lloyd’

Beeb’s John Sweeney Attack Parliamentary Lobby System as Source of Fake News

November 14, 2019

Very interesting article in next week’s Radio Times for 16th-22nd November 2019. John Sweeney, a former journo with the Corporation’s Panorama, has written a piece attacking the parliamentary lobby system, ‘Time to name your sources’, on page 9. The subtitle states very clearly why he objects to it ‘Why are political reporters feeding us fake news?’

The article runs

As the country gears up for a general election, TV viewers and newspaper readers are being lied to from within a secretive system that reduces political journalists and Westminster correspondents to underbutlers, protects power and poisons our democracy. It’s called the lobby and its two most powerful players are a career psychopath (Conservative) and a neo-Stalinist (Labour).

The lobby was created after an Irish terrorist bomb in 1885 caused MPs to lock out the journalists who used to mingle freely inside Westminster. Reporters complained and a permitted few were allowed back, so long as they followed rule number one: when a source says a story is on lobby terms, you don’t identify that source.¬†

The lobby’s most elegant defender, Andrew Marr, wrote in his book, My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, “Sophisticated social animals are necessarily hypocrites… who really wants to know less?”

But Marr wrote that before King Brexit turned everything it touched to Novichok. So where do those political stories based on anonymous oft-quoted “sources close to…” come from?

The PMS (the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman) is a many-headed beast, but one set of jaws is snapped by James Slack, who, as Nick Cohen pointed out in the The Spectator, in a previous life wrote the words underneath the infamous 2016 Daily Mail headline “Enemies of the People”, attacking three judges. Another set of jaws are those of Rob Oxley, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, but the sharpest teeth belong to “career psychopath” Dominic Cummings. David¬† called him that five years ago. It was an understatement.

Cummings, Slack and Oxley jointly and separately use reporters in the lobby system to tell unattributable whoppers while the system as a whole is given coverage by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the papers. Veteran political reporter Peter Oborne nailed a series of lies about Brexit on “lobby terms” recently. Perhaps the most poisonous was the “lobby terms” claim, reported in the Mail on Sunday in October, that Remainers Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Hilary Benn were being investigated by the government because of their involvement with foreign powers. The story was a lie. The BBC, etc, didn’t tell that lie. But they prop up the system in which the lie could be told.

That system also encourages acquiescence among political hacks. If you don’t toe the line and ask awkward questions instead you are excluded from the regular drip-feed of anonymous briefings. It was reported that Boris Johnson when Foreign Secretary was considered a security risk by MI6 because of his dodgy private life. But has the lobby asked if Boris will launch an inquiry into himself? Nyet.

Another potential security risk is Jeremy Corbyn’s spin commissar, Seumas Milne. He oversees Labaour’s lobby operation but the system shields his shenanigans behind the arras. In 2014 Milne appeared on a panel at a summit in Sochi alongside Vladimir Putin. Milne, a former Guardian journalist, has in the past bigged up both Stalin and East Germany. Creepy.

Has the lobby asked Putin’s pal Milne if he is a security risk? Again, nyet.

In these toxic times, the lobby has become a lie factory. We need to scrappy “lobby terms”. If power speaks with a forked tongue, we need to know whose tongue it is that’s lying.

Okay, Sweeney’s correct to call out the lobby system. I’m irritated myself by stories that begin ‘sources close to the Prime Minister’ or ‘Ministers are considering’, as quite often this means that the source is sounding out a policy. And that policy is quite often something monstrous. I remember a story in the Sunday Express back in the early 1980s, when AIDS first appeared and everyone really was afraid it would decimate the global population like a new Black Death. It was so strongly associated with gays that a Beeb science documentary on it had the title ‘AIDS: The Gay Plague’. In this climate of fear, the Sunday Depress announced that ‘ministers’ – who were never named – were considering a radical solution to the problem. This was the construction of an ‘AIDS island’ following the Swedes’ example, where AIDS victims could be isolated and treated. It harkens back to the location of lazarettos – leper hospitals – on islands. But it was also frightening coming as it did from a government that had very far right tendencies and a reputation for aggressive homophobia. Maggie had just tried to introduce her law banning the positive teaching of homosexuality in schools. To many people, this seemed like the beginning of a campaign against homosexuals and the left which would end up with internment camps. The nightmare Fascist Britain of Alan Moore’s and Dave Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, running in the comic Warrior, seemed all too possible.

Others have also challenged the very close relationship between the press and the political class. When David Cameron was PM, it was pointed out that many leading journos, including editorial staff at the Guardian, I believe, also lived in Cameron’s village of Chipping Norton. Over on the other side of the Pond, some of the left-wing news shows on the Net, like The Young Turks, Sam Seder’s Majority Report and the David Pakman Show, have also commented on the way the press is content to parrot stories and claims by right-wing politicians, because they’re afraid that if they start challenging them, those politicians will simply stop talking to them and they’ll lose their stories. The result has been a decline in journalistic standards, as papers no longer attempt to hold politicos to account, but simply repeat their lines and lies. I’ve no doubt that this also partly accounts for the utter complicity of the press in repeating the claims and assumptions of the neoliberal right over here.

But this also doesn’t exonerate the Beeb. Despite the protestations of its political editor, the Beeb does platform right-wing figures over the left. Mike put up a graphic from Tory Fibs a few days ago, which showed very clearly how massively biased the Beeb was in its inclusion of figures and spokesmen for the right on its news shows and panels. Its newsroom is stacked full of Conservatives, like Nick Robinson, and Fiona Bruce and her producers on Question Time scarcely hide their right-wing bias. And the Beeb is still under investigation for the massive bias in its Panorama documentary on anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

The lobby system is a major part of the problem, but not the whole. The whole journalistic system and its cosy relationship with right-wing politicians is rotten, and needs to be overturned. And the Beeb is very much part of it.

Democratic Socialist on Thatcher, Cobyn and the Double Standards of the Right Wing Press

November 11, 2017

I’ve reblogged a number of videos from Democratic Socialist, an Aussie Leftie, who knows his stuff about capitalism’s connection to Fascism, the Nazi privatisation programme and support for businessmen as the eugenic elite, and Thatcher’s hideous support for general Pinochet in Chile.

This is another of his videos.

In it, he takes apart the double standards of the British right-wing media, and in particular the Daily Telegraph in its smears of the British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and its absolute refusal to condemn its idol, Margaret Thatcher, for her friendship with General Pinochet. Pinochet was, as I’ve mentioned frequently before, the brutal dictator of Chile, who overthrew the democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. The Tories smear Corbyn as a supporter of the Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah, and an anti-Semite. He is in fact none of these things. But Thatcher certainly was friends with Pinochet, who was a terrorist, torturer and anti-Semite.

The Torygraph smeared Corbyn as supporting the Iranian theocracy In fact, he did nothing of the sort. The article the Torygraph refers to appears on the page of the Mossadegh Project, an Iranian group that supports and celebrates the work of Iran’s last democratically elected president, Mohammed Mossadeq, who was tolerant and secular. Mossadeq was overthrown by a British-American coup in 1953 because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil company, then consisting of the British owned Anglo-Persian Oil, which later became BP. His fall resulted in the gradual assumption of absolute power by the Shah, who instituted a reign of terror that eventually culminated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when he was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

This section of the video includes a clip of an American expert describing how he was corrected by the Iranians, when he told a group of them that their country was incapable of democratically electing a leader. ‘It was,’ they replied, ‘before the Americans came’.

Oh yes, and there’s another reason why Corbyn’s support for Mossadeq certainly does not mean he supports the current Iranian theocracy. Mossadeq was a Baha’i, which is post-Islamic syncretistic religion, that the Shi’a regime in Iran despises as a vile heresy. I’ve been told by Iranian Muslim friends, who are profoundly disgusted by the fact that expatriate Iranian Baha’is cannot go to their homeland without signing a document stating that they have renounced their faith. The regime has killed 60,000+ Baha’is in pogroms, and subjected many to the same kind of tortures that Pinochet oversaw in Chile. I doubt very much that Corbyn’s support for the former Iranian president endears him to the Iranian regime.

As for supporting Hamas and Hizbollah, and therefore terrorism, Corbyn actually didn’t say anything like that. He condemned terrorism, but said that he had to negotiate with them.

Democratic Socialist contrasts this with Thatcher and Pinochet. The head of Pinochet’s secret police, Michael Townley, was responsible for the assassination of Orlando Latelier, who served as foreign minister in Allende’s government. Latelier had fled the country and noted the construction of the prison camps in which 100,000 people were incarcerated. He was killed by a car bomb in Washington D.C.

Corbyn is accused of anti-Semitism simply through guilt by association with these groups. But Pinochet was also a brutal murderer of Chile’s Jews. There’s a memorial in Chile now to the Jewish victims of Pinochet’s regime. Pinochet also gave sanctuary to the Nazis, who fled to Chile to escape justice. One of these was Walter Rauff, an utterly despicable person, responsible for inventing the gas cars. This was the method by which Jews and the disabled were murdered by the SS before the establishment of the great death camps. They were vans, specially adapted so that the exhaust was fed back into the truck’s rear compartment, in which the victim was placed. The van was driven around until the poor soul was gassed by the carbon monoxide. Not surprisingly, Emile Zubroff, one of Germany’s great Nazi hunters, was particularly angered by Pinochet giving this man sanctuary.

And then there’s the butcher’s extensive use of terror. Here’s another trigger warning: some viewers may find this very hard to watch. This part of the video has footage of an Englishwoman describing how she was raped and tortured with electric shocks by the regime. She does not go into details, but she simply states what the shocks and rapes consisted of. As well as how one woman was caged until she went made. This section starts at c. 350 mark. And it shows how vile and subhuman Pinochet and his torturers were.

This lady was abducted and tortured because Pinochet’s thugs believed she had treated the deputy leader of the anti-Pinochet resistance, and knew where the leader was. The woman was kidnapped, despite the fact that she was living with missionaries at the time. Before they took her, they shot the maid dead. I’m emphasising this because the Christian right in America and Britain has deluded itself and others that somehow Pinochet and other Fascists like him were great defenders of Christianity against Communism.

Rubbish. Fascists all over Latin America killed, raped and tortured committed Christians, including clergy, who worked for the poor against exploitation by the elites. This included Roman Catholic nuns, and Archbishop Romero. Romero was killed in the 1980s. He was not a supporter of Liberation Theology, the mixture of Roman Catholic doctrine and Marxism that had gained ground in Latin America. However, he moved left politically on his appointment, when he saw how oppressed and impoverished the mass of the people in his new archdiocese were. Before the Fascists killed him, they sprayed on the wall of his cathedral ‘Be a patriot. Kill a priest’.

I’m afraid I can’t remember off the top of my head in which country this was – Nicaragua, Guatemala or El Salvador. What I do remember is that he was murdered by the type of people Ronald Reagan hailed as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’, as he called the Contras in Nicaragua. And nearly all of these thugs have been trained by the American intelligence establishment on one of the military bases then called the ‘School of the Americas’.

This is followed by one looks like a BBC report, which shows Thatcher, already looking frail, congratulating Pinochet on having peacefully stepped down. This is true, but ignores the fact that the thug didn’t want to. He was forced out of power by a referendum he wanted to ignore, but his generals chose to enforce. Put simply, he was pushed.

Democratic Socialist then asks what the press would do if Corbyn really was like Thatcher, who was friends with a Fascist dictator, who ruled by terror, rape and torture.

He concludes by stating that he likes Corbyn, but doesn’t see him as being able to withstand the assaults on him by the British press.

Democratic Socialist put this up two years ago in 2015. And I am very glad to say that since then, Corbyn has gone on from strength to strength, not just despite, but because of the hostility of the British press and media.

And the moral character of the hacks in the British right-wing press is appalling. I remember reading a story in Private Eye back in the 1990s about the reaction of some of the journos in the British right-wing press, who were sent down to one of the South American countries to cover its transition from Fascism to democracy. I think it was El Salvador. On their visit, they met members of the El Salvadoran opposition before meeting General Noriega. Later talking about the meeting with the opposition leaders, one of the hacks said to the other that if he were the dictator, he’d shoot them.

Just let that sink in. This hack said that he was in favour of a Fascist dictator, responsible for appalling crimes against humanity, killing the very people, who wanted to lead their country to a new, democratic, better life. Now I dare say it was probably meant as a joke, but it’s a sick one. Especially as the Times and other establishment newspapers a few years after Pinochet seized power in Chile were demanding a coup in 1975 to oust the minority Labour government. The Times didn’t, it is fair to say, want a right-wing government. They wanted a ‘Government Of All the Talents’, containing right-wing Labour as well as Tories to govern after a military uprising. If you want some of the details, see Francis Wheen’s book Strange Days: Paranoia in the 70s. ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone also revealed in his book, Livingstone’s Labour, how MI5 also had plans to round up British leftists in a coup and imprison them in camps in the Hebrides or somewhere else remote.

This is the political background behind Alan Moore’s and David Lloyd’s graphic novel and film, V For Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt, and Stephen Fry. I don’t like the movie because of its pronounced anti-Christian bias. But it does depict a chillingly plausible view of what a future fascist Britain would look like, based on what really happened in Nazi Germany. With the exception that the victims of biological experimentation in the Nazi camps never developed superpowers, and single-handedly inspired the masses to revolt and topple Hitler.

The right-wing press just loved Thatcher. They still do, but did not condemn Thatcher for her friendship with Pinochet. They were candid about the nature of his regime, or at least, some where. And some of the hacks, who supported Thatcher maintain that they would have loved to have killed Pinochet. Julie Burchill, a long-time staple of the Mail, went on about what would happen to the Chilean Fascist if she and him were in a locked room with her having a gun. Well, I’m very sceptical about that. Not least because in another of her articles, La Burchill vilified the idealistic young men and women, who went to Spain to fight for the Republicans against Franco during the Civil War as the equivalent of the bloodthirsty tourists, who go to watch a bullfight. So she was quite prepared to support the Spanish Fascists against the anti-Fascists, who risked and lost life and limb against him.

Burchill hates the left, and probably thinks that the Republicans were all Communists and Anarchists, but they also included POUM, which was roughly the equivalent of the British Labour party at the time, and liberals. They were a coalition of forces, united against the threat of Fascism. As the ‘Red’ Duchess of Atholl pointed out at the time.

Now it seems to me that if Britain had suffered a military coup in 1975 against the Labour administration, it would have not differed much from the Fascist regimes in Latin America. We would still have mass incarceration, the suspension of traditional British constitutional freedoms and rape and torture.

And I have no doubt that the Tory press, which lauds Thatcher and vilifies Corbyn, would have been 100 per cent behind it all.

Cartoon of Thatcher, General Pinochet, and the Man He Overthrew, Salvador Allende

June 29, 2017

This is another of my cartoons against the Tory party and its vile policies. This one is of the leaderene herself, Margaret Thatcher, and her Fascist friend, General Pinochet. Thatcher was great friends with Chilean dictator. He had, after all, given Britain aid and assistance in the Falklands conflict against Argentina. After the old brute’s regime fell, she offered him a place to stay in London and was outraged when the New Labour government tried to have him arrested and extradited to Spain on a human rights charge. Amongst the tens of thousands the thug’s administration had arrested and murdered over the years was a young man from Spain, and his government naturally wanted the old butcher arrested and tried.

The figure on the right of the picture is Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president Pinochet overthrew in 1975. Allende was a Marxist, and one of his policies was to break up the vast estates and give the land to the impoverished peasants. This was all too much for the Chilean military-industrial elite and the Americans.

Since the beginning of the Cold War, the Americans had been working to overthrew any and all left-wing governments in South and Central America and the Caribbean. These regimes were attacked because they were supposedly Communist or sympathetic to Communism. Many of the governments that the Americans plotted against or overthrew were actually far more moderate. They were either democratic Socialists, like Jacobo Arbenz’s administration in Guatemala, all were liberal. In many cases the accusation that they were Communists was simply an excuse to overthrow a government that was harmful to American corporate interests. Arbenz’s regime was overthrown because he wished to nationalise the banana plantations, which dominated the country’s economy. These kept their workers in a state of desperate poverty little better, if at all, than slavery. Many of these plantations were owned by the American United Fruit corporation. The Americans thus had Arbenz ousted in a CIA-backed coup. They then tried to justify the coup by falsely depicted Arbenz as a Communist. Marxist literature and material was planted in Arbenz’s office and photographed, to appear in American newspapers and news reports back home. The result of the coup was a series of brutal right-wing dictatorships, which held power through torture, mass arrest and genocide until the 1990s.

Allende was a particular problem for the Americans, as he had been democratically elected to his country’s leadership. This challenged the Americans’ propaganda that Communism was always deeply unpopular, anti-democratic, and could only seize power through coups and invasions. So the CIA joined forces with Allende’s extreme right-wing opponents in the military, business and agricultural elites, and fabricated a story that the president was going to remove democracy and establish a dictatorship. Allende was then overthrown, and Pinochet took power as the country’s military dictator.

In the following decades, 30,000 people were arrested by the regime as subversives, to be tortured and killed. Many disappeared. The campaign by their wives and womenfolk to find out what happened to them, which began in the 1980s, still continues. A few years ago, the BBC in once of its documentaries about the Latin America, visited Chile and filmed in the former concentration camp where the regime’s political prisoners were interned. It was situated high up in the Chilean desert. The place was abandoned, decaying and strewn with the desert dust, but still grim. The presenter pointed out the wooden building where the prisoners were tortured. It was called ‘the disco’, because the guards played disco music to cover the screams of the prisoners when they were raped.

As well as supporting its dictator against the threat of a popular Marxist regime, Thatcher and the Americans under Ronald Reagan also had another reason for taking an interest in the country. Thatcher and Reagan were monetarists, followers of the free market ideology of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school. Friedman’s ideas had also been taken up Pinochet, and Friedman himself used to travel regularly to the country to check on how they were being implemented. So much for the right-wing claim that free markets go hand in hand with democracy and personal freedom. All this came to an end in the 1990s, when a series of revolutions and protests throughout Latin America swept the dictators from power.

The links between Thatcher’s and Reagan’s administrations and the brutal dictatorships in South and Central America, as well as their connections to domestic Fascist groups, alarmed many on the Left in Britain. She also supported a ‘strong state’, meaning a strong military and police force, which she used to crack down on her opponents in Britain, such as during the Miner’s Strike. There were real fears amongst some that she would create a dictatorship in Britain. These fears were expressed in the comic strip, V For Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, which first ran in the British comic, Warrior, before being republished by DC in America. This told the story of V, an anonymous escapee prisoner and victim of medical experimentation at one of the concentration camps in a future Fascist Britain, and his campaign to overthrow the regime that had tortured and mutilated him. A film version also came out a few years ago, starring Hugo Weaving as ‘V’, Natalie Portman as the heroine, Evie, John Hurt as the country’s dictator, and Stephen Fry as a gay TV presenter. As is well known, it’s from V For Vendetta that inspired protest and revolutionary groups across the world to wear Guy Fawkes masks, like the strip’s hero.

To symbolise the mass killings committed by Thatcher’s old pal, I’ve drawn a couple of human skulls. Between them is a fallen figure. This comes from a 19th century American anti-slavery poster, showing the corpse of a Black man, who was shot dead when he tried to claim his right as an American citizen to vote. Although it came from a different country and time, the poor fellow’s body nevertheless seemed to symbolise to me the murderous denial of basic civil liberties of the Fascist right, and particularly by local Fascist regimes around the world, installed and kept in power by American imperialism, and its particular oppression of the world’s non-White peoples.

New Labour came to power promising an ethical foreign policy under Robin Cook. Apart from Pinochet’s arrest, this went by the wayside as Tony Blair and his crew were prepared to cosy up to every multimillionaire thug, dictator or corrupt politician, who were ready to give them money. Like Berlusconi, the Italian president, whose Forza Italia party had formed a coalition with the ‘post-Fascists’ of the Alleanza Nazionale and the Liga Nord, another bunch, who looked back with nostalgia to Mussolini’s dictatorship. This crew were so racist, they hated the Italian south, which they nicknamed ‘Egypt’, and campaigned for an independent northern Italian state called ‘Padania’.

Jeremy Corbyn similarly promises to be a genuine force for peace, democracy and freedom around the world. He might be another disappointment once in power. But I doubt it. I think he represents the best chance to attack imperialism and exploitative neoliberal capitalism.

So if you genuinely want to stop Fascism and exploitation here and abroad, and end Thatcher’s legacy of supporting oppressive right-wing regimes, vote Labour.

Resign, Tyrant, Said the Type-Type Man

September 23, 2014

Harlan Ellison on being spied on by Big Brother in Reagan’s 1984 America

Okay, so I’ve been away from blogging for a few months now. I’ve been working on a book. It’s my doctoral thesis on the origins and growth of the town of Bridgwater in Somerset from prehistory to 1700. It’s now with the publishers, and hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before it comes out. I’ve also been taken up and somewhat distracted by a few other projects. Nevertheless, I hope to get back to blogging regularly.

Edward Snowden’s revelations of the sheer size and scale of the American intelligence agencies’ surveillance of their citizens, and British complicity with it, has raised questions about the gradual diminution of personal freedom and the transformation of our societies into Orwellian surveillance states. This is just part of process that has been going on for a very long time, since the 1980s. Alan Moore, the veteran comics writer and co-creator of the V for Vendetta comic strip with the artist David Lloyd, stated has stated in interviews how amazed he is by the complete acceptance of CCTV cameras on Britain’s streets. When he included them in the strip as a visible sign of the totalitarian Fascist state in which the strip was set, he was absolutely sure it would terrify everyone to the point where they simply wouldn’t accept them. Now, as he remarked, they’re everywhere. Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, has also made the same point. He remarked in an interview on how he first noticed them after he came back from a visit to China. He too felt that they were a threat to individual liberty, and could not understand why no-one else was alarmed by them or saw them this way.

This concerns have become more acute with the Tory and Lib Dem decision to establish secret courts, functioning as a Kafkaesque travesty of justice. In these courts, people will be able to be tried without knowing the evidence against them, nor who their accuser is. All for reasons of ‘national security’. It’s frighteningly like the corrupt and murderous judicial system of the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to Saddam Hussein’s legal code. In addition to the laws, which were made known to the Iraqi public, there were also six pieces of legislation which were kept secret. Very secret. They were so secret that even knowledge of these laws was a crime that could land you in prison or worse. For all their claims to be the defenders of personal freedom, with the establishment of these secret courts the Coalition is laying the foundations of the kind of totalitarian state described by Kafka and Moore, only in 21st century Britain. And the surveillance of citizens by the Western intelligence agencies, for merely having political views the authorities considered dangerous or subversive, goes back even further.

Looking through Youtube, I found this interview with Harlan Ellison, the veteran SF author and screenwriter, from 1984. It’s part of a discussion about the relevance of Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name in contemporary America. When asked about this, Ellison states that he thinks it’s extremely relevant, because he’s lived through it in Reagan’s America. He described how, shortly after Reagan became governor of California, he began to hear clicks and noises on his telephone, suggesting that it was being tapped. He dismissed the idea, until he went out to empty his wastepaper basket in the trash one morning, and discovered an engineer for the telephone company outside, connected to the wire leading into his house. Checking with people he knew, who were in a position to know, he found out that it was indeed true, and his phone was indeed being tapped.

Ellison made sure, however, he had his revenge. Knowing that whatever he said on the phone would be written down and filed, he made sure that his phone conversations included some interesting and highly derogatory comments about the then leader of the free world and star of Bedtime for Bonzo, whose title character was a chimpanzee, and arguably the better actor. For example, the great author would remark that Reagan beat his mother and did not confine his romantic interests to those with the two legs, but also those with four, a wagging tail and wet nose. Here’s the interview:

It’s not hard to see why Reagan and his cohorts should view Ellison as a potential subversive. He’s an outspoken atheist and a card-carrying liberal. This was in sharp contrast to Reagan’s administration, which was strongly based on the American religious Right. Ellison had been a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement. On one of his own videos on Youtube, he discusses his participation on the Civil Rights March on Selma with Martin Luther King. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI was hostile and deeply suspicious of the Civil Rights Movement, which they suspected was a Communist initiative. So Ellison’s participation in that would have been enough to arouse the authorities’ interest and suspicions in him. In addition to writing some of the most outstanding episodes of the original Star Trek series, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, Ellison was one of the major figures in the SF New Wave, whose other leading writers included Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds in Britain. This was markedly countercultural, and attacked contemporary literary and social conventions. In one of Ellison’s best known short stories, Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-Tock Man, for example, the hero is a lone, vigilante prankster. The story is set in a dystopian society in which time is rigidly controlled, the Tick-Tock Men of the title making sure that everyone perform their allotted tasks rigorously according to the time table. The hero, Harlequin, tries to subvert this by performing practical jokes deliberately intended to upset the time table, and the rigid social order that it supports. These include releasing a torrent of jelly beans all over people as they go to work in the morning. Ellison himself declared of the SF writers in the New Wave that ‘these guys is blasphemous!’ In Britain too the movement caused outcry, and questions were raised in the Houses of Parliament about Moorcock’s New Worlds. There was concern about the allegedly obscene nature of Norman Spinrad’s story, ‘Riders of the Purple Wage’, which was then being serialised in the magazine.

Eventually, Ellison says, the clicking noises simply faded away and the authorities presumably lost interest. This was probably when they realised that, no matter how objectionable they found his politics, one of SF’s greatest writers was not actually planning to overthrow the government of the US, invade Guatemala, or even deluge the sidewalk with a tide of jelly beans. They may even have agreed with his comments about Ronald Reagan. It does, however, show that under Reagan, prominent intellectuals that didn’t share the president’s highly reactionary and paranoid views could be spied upon, simply for having those views, regardless of whether they were innocent of any crime. And as Snowden’s revelations showed, the surveillance state has expanded massively since then.

We do need the security and intelligence services. According to today’s I, Isis, the Islamist terrorist organisation Iraq and Syria, has called on its supporters to attack and kill citizens of the US, Britain, France and the other coalition countries. The work of the various intelligence agencies and their surveillance is necessary to stop ISIS and other terrorist organisations from carrying out their threats. But individual freedom – freedom of conscience, speech and publication also needs to be preserved. These are also under threat from the Right, though legislation like the Coalition’s secret courts. They need to be strongly rejected, and proper safeguards against further encroachment on our civil liberties put in place. The answer to the old question ‘Who watches the watchers’ has always been: ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance’.

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).