Posts Tagged ‘Pravda’

Another Lesson from France: How to Maintain a Diverse, Pluralist Press

October 10, 2020

There’s a very interesting passage in Denis MacShane’s 1986 Fabian Society pamphlet, French Lessons for Labour, where he describes how the French have been able to create a diverse and pluralistic press. Apparently it’s the most diverse in Europe with the exception of Sweden. This has been achieved partly through legislation drafted at the country’s liberation during World War II, but which was never enforced, which would have removed newspapers from the ownership of Nazi supporters and collaborators, the nationalisation of the distributors and state subsidization.

In fact, France, partly by design, partly by chance, has the most pluralist press in Europe outside Sweden. The design lies in the laws passed at the liberation in 1944/45 which dispossessed the owners of the right-wing papers which had supported Hitler before 1939 and the Vichy regime after 1940. A right of reply law and, more important, one that nationalised the press distribution agency were also passed. The latter means that left-wing newspapers and magazines are on sale in the most remote parts of France and the distribution censorship which is exercised in Britain by the two main wholesale/retail companies does not exist in France. In addition, the Government subsidises the press with cheap postal tariffs, zero VAT rating and, on occasion, direct subsidy.

The chance lies in the willingness of businessmen or corporations to put up money on left-of-centre newspapers and to support them during periods of low or zero profits. Le Matin, Liberation and the left-wing weekly Le Nouvel Observateur (circulation 400,000) all provide a width of reporting and comments In addition, Le Monde, whose independence is assured by the right of journalists to elect its editor, maintains an objectivity and authority, and an influence because of those two values, which are not automatically hostile to a socialist government. (P. 17).

However, attempts to pass similar legislation to the 1944/5 laws in order to stop the Vichy collaborator Robert Hersant from owning 19 national and provincial papers in 1984 and 1986 was a failure, partly due to a press freedom campaign from the right.

This issue of media ownership and bias is acutely relevant on this side of the Channel as well. Since the 1980s, the press and media in Britain has been owned by a decreasing number of powerful individuals, who may also have other business interests. These individuals, like Rupert Murdoch, have been able to exert oligarchical control of the media, maintaining a strong Tory bias. Media and press bias against Labour was particularly acute during Thatcher’s administration and was certainly a factor in the 1987 general election. It has also been very much in evidence over the past five years, when even supposedly left-wing newspapers like the Mirror, the Guardian and the Observer, ran stories attacking Labour and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as the radio and television networks.

Media bias has also partly been responsible for the right-ward movement of the Labour party itself under Tony Blair. Blair was backed by the Murdoch press, and former ministers have said that Murdoch was an invisible presence at every cabinet meeting as Blair worried how his policies would be viewed by the press magnate. He was also able to gain the support of other papers with the exception of the Heil, but continued to hope that he would eventually win over that rag. I think it’s likely that press ownership will become even more restricted if some papers go under due to the Coronavirus lockdown. Even before the lockdown, the Express changed owners as its former proprietor, the pornography Richard Desmond, sold it to the Mirror group.

The willingness of businessmen to support left-wing newspapers is a crucial factor. When the Daily Herald went bust in the 1960s, to be bought by Murdoch and relauched as the Scum, it actually had a higher circulation that many of the other papers. What brought it down was the fact that it was unable to attract advertising. And I’ve encountered censorship by the distributors myself. Way back in the 1980s during the period of glasnost and perestroika introduced by Gorbachev, an English edition of Pravda was briefly available in some British newsagents. This was an exciting time as Gorbachev signed arms limitation treaties with Reagan ending the Cold War, and introduced reforms in the Soviet Union intended to turn the country into a multi-party democracy. I tried ordering it from my local newsagent in Bristol, but was told it was impossible. It was only being carried by one of the two national distributors. The one that served my area simply wouldn’t carry it.

And the newsagent chains can also exercise their own censorship. When it started out, Private Eye was seen as very subversive and viewed with distaste by many people. Many newsagents wouldn’t stock it. And at least one of the newsagents in the ‘ 90s refused to put its edition satirising the public attitude at Princess Di’s funeral on their shelves. When I asked what had happened to it when it wasn’t on sale in my local newsagents, I was told that it hadn’t come in yet. Well, there seemed to be many other newsagents, who hadn’t had it delivered either. After it returned to the shelves a fortnight later, the Eye published a series of pieces, including letters from readers, who’d had similar problems finding a copy, revealing what had actually gone on. One of the newsagents, John Menzies, had objected to the issue and its cover, and so refused to sell it.

Britain would definitely benefit considerably from similar policies towards the press as that of our friends across Le Manche. But I think getting such legislation through would be almost impossible. There were demands for workers’ control of the press in the 1980s, partly as a reaction by journalists on papers bought by Murdoch as he expanded his noxious empire. They were also concerned about editorial control and bias as the press passed into the hands of fewer and fewer owners. Those demands were obviously unsuccessful. Any attempt to pass legislation providing for state subsidisation of left-wing papers would be howled down by the Tory press as interference in press freedom and the state bailing out failing companies in contravention of the Thatcherite doctrine that market forces should be allowed full reign and failing companies and industries should be allowed to go under.

And I can’t imagine any law to deprive former collaborators or supporters of Hitler of ownership of their papers going down at all well with the Daily Mail, which is notorious for its support of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists and articles praising Hitler before the outbreak of the War. John Major in the last days of his administration wanted to pass legislation breaking up Murdoch’s empire, but by that time it was too late – Murdoch had already switched to Tony Blair and the Labour party and Major’s government was in no position to do anything about Murdoch’s pernicious control of the press.

This problem is likely to become more acute if some newspapers fold due to lack of sales during the lockdown and the impact of the internet. Media ownership is restricted enough as it is, without Murdoch trying to destroy the Beeb so that Sky and the other cable/satellite stations can take its place. It may not be too long before Murdoch’s hold on the media becomes a true monopoly. In that event, government action to break it up will become a necessity. But given the uniform opposition it would face from the press, it’s questionable if it would be successful.

Or as governments increasingly ingratiate themselves with the Murdoch press in return for its support, even be considered as an option.

Manifesto for a Truly Democratic, Socialist America

January 23, 2020

Bhaskar Sunkara, The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality (London: Verso 2019).

Introduction

This is a superb book, though conditions have changed since the book was published last year through Labour’s election defeat and the fall of Corbyn, that the new age of socialist activism and success Sunkara looks forward to is now far more doubtful. Sunkara is an American radical journalist, and the founder and editor of the left-wing magazine, Jacobin. Originally from Trinidade, he immigrated to the USA with his family when he was young. Growing up in New York, he read extensively in the Big Apple’s public library, where he came to realise the country’s dependence on services provided by the state. He immersed himself in the history and literature of socialism, finally joining the Democratic Socialists of America. He is also a registered Democrat.

The book comes praised by Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, Naomi Klein and Owen Jones. The book was partly inspired by the success of Jeremy Corbyn over here and Bernie Sanders in America in bringing socialism back into the political arena after decades of neoliberalism. This is made clear by the blurb on the dust jacket’s inside flap. This states

Socialism was pronounced dead when the Soviet Union collapsed. But with the success of Jeremy Corbyn’s left-led Labour party and increasing economic inequality, the politics of class struggle and wealth redistribution is back on the agenda. In The Socialist Manifesto Bhaskar Sunkara offers a primer on socialism for the twenty-first century, outlining where it came from, what it is, and what a socialist political system might look like.

Tracing the history of some of socialism’s highs and lows – from the creation of Germany’s Social Democratic Party through bloody communist revolutions to the predicaments of midcentury social democracy – Sunkara contends that, in our global age, socialism is still the only way forward. Drawing on history and his own experience in left-wing activism, Sunkara explains how socialists can win better wages and housing and create democratic institutions in workplaces and communities.

In showing how and why socialism can work today, The Socialist Manifesto is for anyone seeking a real solution to the vast inequalities of our age.

The Way to Socialism in America

The book begins with a ‘Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen’, which maps out one possible path for the transformation of America into a socialist state. Sunkara asks the reader to imagine himself as a worker at Jon Bongiovi’s pasta sauce business in Texas to show that, even under a benign and paternalistic employer, the capitalist system still leaves the workers poor and powerless. In order to compete, the firm must not only make a profit, but invest in machinery while at the same time either cutting wages or laying people off. However, the workers are empowered by a new wave of strikes and left-wing activism that sees the election of President Springsteen. Springsteen establishes a welfare state, which allows the workers to devote more of their time and energy to pressing for their demands without having to fear for their livelihood. The worker’s movement continues making gains until the economy has become nationalised. Individual firms still exist, and are run by the workers themselves rather than the state. Some of them fail. But there are also government banking schemes to help workers set up their own businesses, though still state-owned and collectively managed, when they have a good idea and are fed up with their present job. Like bottling pasta sauce. America is still a vibrant democracy, and there are a number of other parties, including a capitalist party, though that is waning in popularity. It’s not utopia, but it is a system where workers are genuinely valued.

The Rise and Transformation of Socialism from Marxism to Reformism

The socialism, whose history the book tells and advocates, is that the Marxist and Marxist derived parties, Communism and social democracy, rather than the Utopian socialism of the generation before Marx and the more extreme versions of anarchist communism and syndicalism. The book naturally describes the career of Marx and Engels, and the formation of the German SDP. This moved away from revolutionary Marxism to reformism under the influences of Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, who believed that capitalism’s survival and the growing prosperity of industrial workers had disproven crucial aspects of Marxist doctrine. Initially pacifist, like the other European socialist parties, the SDP voted for war credits at the outbreak of the First World War. This caused a split, with a minority forming the Independent Socialists (USPD) and the Communist Party. When the 1919 revolution broke out, the majority SDP under President Ebert moved to crush it using right-wing Freikorps brigades. Although the SDP was one prop of the Weimar coalition, it was never able to establish socialism in Germany, and so fell with the other parties in the collapse of the Republic to the Nazis.

Russian Communism

Sunkara’s account of the rise of Russian communism is interesting for his argument that the Bolsheviks originally weren’t any more dictatorial than their rivals, the Mensheviks. Even Kautsky recognised the need for a strong, centralised party. But Lenin originally was no dictator. Pravda rejected 44 of his articles, and the were other voices as strong or stronger within the party. What pushed it towards first authoritarianism and then totalitarianism was the stubborn opposition of the rival socialist parties, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. They were invited to join a government coalition with the Bolsheviks, but walked out and began active opposition. The Revolution was then threatened by the revolt of the Whites, leading to the Civil War, in which Britain and other western countries sent troops in order to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. This, and the chaotic conditions created by the Revolution itself led to the Bolshevik party assuming a monopoly of state power, partly as the only means available of restoring order. This began the party’s journey towards the murderously repressive state it became, though interparty democracy was still alive in the 1920s before the rise of Stalin.

Mao and China

The emergence of communism in China, its seizure of power and the reign of Chairman Mao is also covered as an example of socialism in the Third World. The nations of the Developing World, like China, took over revolutionary socialism – communism – rather than reformism, because conditions in Russia more closely resembled those in their nations. Russian had been a largely agricultural country, in which the majority of its citizens were peasants. Industrial workers’ similarly represented only a minuscule fraction of the Chinese population, and so Mao turned to the peasants instead as a revolutionary force. This chapter concludes that Chinese communism was less about empowering and liberating the workers than as a movement for national modernisation.

Sweden and the Rise and Fall of Social Democracy

The book also examines the rise and progress of Swedish social democracy. The Swedish socialist party took power early through alliances with the Agrarians and the Liberals. This allowed them to introduce generous welfare legislation and transform the country from one of the most socially backward, feudal and patriarchal states in Europe to the progressive nation it is today. But there were also losses as well as gains. The Swedes compromised their commitment to all-out socialism by preserving private industry – only 5 per cent of the Swedish economy was nationalised – and acting to regulate the economy in alliance with the trade unions and industrialists. This corporative system collapsed during the oil crisis of the 1970s. This caused inflation. The government tried to resist wage rises, which the unions resisted. The industrialists resented the growth of working class activism and began measures to counteract them. Olof Palme, the country’s prime minister, then moved in a left-ward direction through establishing funds that would allow the trade unions gradually to buy up companies. The industrialists recognised an existential threat, and succeeded in overthrowing the government.

The Swedish model, meanwhile, had been highly influential through Labour party MP Anthony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, which in turn led to Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ as the Labour government in Britain moved from social democracy to a more left-wing alternative to neoliberalism. Other European socialist parties followed, such as the German SDP. France’s President Mitterand in the 1980s tried to break this pattern in the 1980s, but his government was also overthrown through capital flight, the industrialists taking their money out of the French economy. Mitterand tried to hang on by promising to safeguard industry and govern responsibly, but it was no use.

Socialism and America

The chapter on socialism in America is particularly interesting, as it shows, contrary to the impression given by America’s two-party system, that the country has a very strong history and tradition of working class parties and socialism, from combative unions like the IWW to organised parties like the Knights of Labor, Democratic Socialists of America, and the Socialist Labor, Populist, Progressive and Communist Parties. However, socialism has never gained power there, as it has in Britain and Europe, because of a variety of factors. These include the extreme violence of the state and private industry, the latter hiring gunmen, to put down strikes; factional infighting between socialist groups, partly caused by the extreme range of socialist opinions and the restriction of some socialist groups to particular ethnicities, and the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War.

A strategy for Success

Thechapter ‘How We Win’ contains Sunakara’s own observations and recommendations for socialist campaigning and the construction of genuine socialism in America. These are

1. Class-struggle social democracy does not close down avenues for radicals; it opens them.

2. Class-struggle social democracy has the potential to win a major national election today.

3. Winning an election isn’t the same as winning power.

4. They’ll do everything to stop us.

5. Our immediate demands are very much achievable.

6. We must move quickly from social democracy to democratic socialism.

7. We need socialists.

8. The working class had changed over the past hundred and fifty years, but not as much we think.

9. Socialists must embed themselves in working class struggles.

10. It is not enough to work with unions for progressive change. We must wage democratic battles within them.

11. A loose network of leftists and rank-and-file activists isn’t enough. We need a political party.

12. We need to take into account American particularities.

13. We need to democratise our political institutions.

14. Our politics must be universalist.

15. History matters.

Conclusion

This is the clarion call for genuinely radical activism. It will almost certainly start right-wing alarm bells ringing, as Sunkara calls for left-wing activists to join main parties like the Democrats in the US and Labour in Britain. They are not to be infiltrators, but as people genuinely committed to these parties and working peoples’ causes and issues. The claims that the working class has somehow died out or no longer has radical potential is overstated. It has changed, but 60 per cent of the population are still employees drawing wages or a salary, and who have no money of their own. And the book shows very clearly that the transformation to a genuinely socialist economy is needed. Social democracy has won considerable gains for working people, gains that still persist despite constant right-wing attack. But these aren’t enough, and if left unchallenged, capital will always try to destroy them.

The book’s angled towards the US, but its lessons and many of its recommendations still apply of this side of the pond. The resurgence of genuine socialist activism in Britain is now far less certain in Britain. But hopefully this book will help show to more people why it’s still possible and needed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fib Dems Now Condemned by Editors’ Organisation for Disguising Campaign Literature as Newspapers

November 27, 2019

The Lib Dems’ capacity for lies, falsehood and deception truly seems to know no bounds. If they carry on at this rate, they’ll soon equal the Tories in the amount of deliberate misinformation they spread. I think this was dealt with by Mike over at Vox Political yesterday, but it’s now turned up in today’s I. According to an article written by Jane Clinton, ‘Party accused of disguising pamphlets as newspapers’, the trade organisation for newspaper editors has come out against the Lib Dems for trying to disguise their campaign literature as newspapers. The article reads

The Liberal Democrats have been condemned for allegedly disguising their election pamphlets as imitation newspapers.

The Society of Editors said it appeared to be “a concerted effort” to “mislead readers and voters.”

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society for Editors said, “it is ironic how it is often politicians who complain about fake news but then set out to at least blur the lines for readers – and in this case voters – by packaging their partial messages to ape independent newspapers.”

His comments come after it was revealed that the Liberal Democrats produced election newsletters for their candidates in Basingstoke and Leeds, which used titles mimicking local newspapers.

However, Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, defended the party’s tactics saying the use of such campaign newspapers was “as old as the hills.”

“Doing campaign newspapers is not exactly a new tactic, nor one that is only done by the Liberal Democrats,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ms Swinson has succeeded in stopping the distribution of an SNP leaflet accusing her of accepting a £14,0000 donation from “a fracking company”.

Okay, I think Swinson’s right about parties publishing their own little newspapers during election campaigns. But her party appears to have gone further than that. They seem to have deliberately imitated the style of local newspapers in order to deceive people into believing that these papers endorse them.

Just as they were caught a week or so publishing misleading quotes from various papers that made it appear they praised the party and its leader. In fact, the quotes came from Swinson herself, who was quoted by the newspaper. They weren’t, as the Fib Dems’ literature seemed to be claiming, praise from the newspaper itself.

I know Tories, who hate the Lib Dems more than Labour because of their deceitful antics. Now it appears that under Jo Swinson their deceitfulness and mendacity is becoming notorious to the whole nation, not just Conservatives.

And if they’re prepared to manufacture fake news and fake newspapers, like the press organisations of totalitarian states like the former Soviet Union, then they are a danger to democracy and responsible government.

There was an old joke in the Soviet Union about the two leading newspapers. It was a pun on their names. The Communist party newspaper was Pravda, which means ‘Truth’. The leading non-party newspaper, which still obviously had to follow the Communist line, was Izvestia, which means ‘News’. The joke was that there was no news in the Truth, and no truth in the ‘News’.

Which now describes all Jo Swinson and her party’s election promises and literature.

Virgin Trains Bans the Daily Mail – Right-Wing Heads Explode!

January 15, 2018

Last week Virgin Trains announced that at least on one of the lines they operated, they would no longer carry the Daily Mail due to customer complaints. Immediately the Mail and its legions of followers started frothing at the mouth and complaining of censorship. But they don’t really have any basis for complaint, as the ban by Virgin is part of the very capitalism and privatisation that their heroine, Maggie Thatcher, promoted.

As a private firm, Virgin is under no obligation to anyone except to turn a profit for its shareholders and bloated paychecks for its board members. Thatcher deluded herself into believing that privatisation would lead to better services, due to the action of market forces and competition. But this didn’t happen. We’re paying more now in subsidies, for a worse service, than we did under British rail. But this hasn’t bother the Tories, whose ideological commitment is for private industry to run everything, even when this would produce a manifestly worse service, as it would if and when they decide to go all out and privatise the Health Service completely.

But as a private firm, ‘Beardie’ Branson can do whatever he likes with it. It’s his property. And so, by the nature of property rights, the Tories can’t argue against what he’s done. It is censorship, yes, but it hasn’t been done by the state. It’s been done by a private individual, whose right to do what he likes with his property has always been regarded by the Tories and the Republicans in America as absolutely inviolable. Branson is free to decide whatever magazines his trains will, or will not carry, in the same way that newsagents can decide which papers to stock. Way back in the 1980s I tried to order the English version of Pravda, which was then coming out, from my local newsagents in my part of Bristol. No such luck. I was told that Bristol had been divided up between the two national distributors. One operated to supply the newsagents in one half, while the other operated in my area. And the distributor that supplied the newsagents in my area wouldn’t carry it. So I had absolutely no choice whatsoever. Private enterprise had decided that where I was, I couldn’t obtain Pravda. Just as Branson has now decided that the Heil will be unavailable on his trains.

Yes, the decision makes a mockery of Thatcher’s constant mantra that privatisation and private industry would bring more ‘choice’. It hasn’t. But this has been the result of privatisation generally. People have been left with a plethora of companies, all actually providing a worse service than when the utilities were nationalised, and for many people choice is actually an illusion. It doesn’t matter who you go to, you’re still paying very large amounts for services that arguably aren’t worth it. If you want an example, think of the privatised dentists. Thanks to Thatcher’s decimation of the dental service back in the 1980s, there are now few dentists taking NHS patients. The dentists that have gone private charge fees that, for many, make going to them unaffordable. Yes, you can change dentists, looking around for a cheaper service, but unless you find an NHS dentist, you’re still going to be charge very high fees. So from that perspective, you don’t have a choice. And the same applies to the railways and other public services taken over by private contractors.

Secondly, Branson was responding to ‘market forces’. This was the other buzzword of the Thatcherites. The operation of the market was held to be good, just and a guarantee of commercial efficiency and success. Capitalism won over socialism, because socialism took no account of market forces. There’s some truth in that when it’s applied to completely socialised economies such as those of the Communist bloc. But as we’ve seen, various capitalist firms have since failed, and then had to be bailed out by the taxpayer. If you just have market forces as your guide, then these firms, which now include Carillion, should be allowed to go under because of their failure to respond to what the market wants. But instead the right demands that we bail them out, because it’s private enterprise and so can’t be allowed to fail. It’s why the corporatist capitalism ushered in by Reagan and Thatcher has been called ‘socialism for the rich’, as the state is always required to support them, while denying welfare services and healthcare to those genuinely in need.

As for Branson’s ban on the Heil, he was responding to market forces. People had complained about the Heil, and as the service provider, he responded to what his customers wanted. The Mail, which has vociferously and consistently fallen over itself praising Thatcher to the rafters, cannot complain. Thatcher stood for market forces, and market forces have dictated that Virgin’s customers don’t want the Daily Mail. So it’s just too bad for them that Virgin trains will no longer be carrying it. There’s also an element of hypocrisy here. If Virgin had said that they wouldn’t carry what remains of the left-wing press in Britain – the Mirror, the Groaniad or the I, the right-wing press, including the Heil, would be delighted. This shows that the great British public despise the left and its journalism, they would announce proudly. But now that the great British public, or at least that section of it that travels by train, have decided that they don’t want the Mail and its hate and bigotry travelling with them, the Tory press has been screaming ‘censorship’.

Yes, Virgin’s ban on the Daily Mail is censorship, but it’s been done because of the nature of capitalism, Thatcherite ‘choice’ and ‘market forces’. Except that in this case, they haven’t acted to empower the right, but attack it.

From C. 1989: Pravda International on Launch of Greenpeace Rock Album in Soviet Union

October 18, 2017

Pravda International, with pic of Yeltsyn before he became president. This seems to have been before the drunkenness took hold. It also doesn’t show his uncritical adulation of capitalism, which destroyed the Soviet economy and caused massive unemployment and poverty.

Way back in the 1980s when I was at College, I used to buy Pravda International occasionally. It was, very roughly, an English language version of the Russian Communist party newspaper, but with articles also drawn from the other Russian newspapers and magazines Izvestia, Argumenty I Fakty, Moscow News, as well as by the English editions own staff. Like many magazines over the years, it seems to have folded due to lack of interest. I tried to buy it from my local newsagent, but found out that it was unavailable. The two big magazine distributors had divided Bristol up between them, and one of them wouldn’t carry it. So guess which half of Bristol I was in.

I nevertheless kept hold of some of them, as they were records of an exciting, historic time. This was when Glaznost and Perestroika were in full swing, the Soviet Union was being democratised according to Gorbachev’s belief that democracy and Communism could be combined to produce a new, vigorous, prosperous Soviet Union. The Soviets were opening their borders and allowing western media into the country. The Cold War was thawing rapidly, and right across the Communist bloc censorship was being lifted. The Soviet people were making their voices heard, and books, plays, poetry and art that had previously been banned were now being published and publicly discussed. Stalin and his minions stood, thanks to dissident Marxist historians like Roy and Zhores Medvedev, openly condemned as monstrous mass murderers. And the families, friends and loved ones of his victims organised to demand memorials to the millions he had murdered. And instead of hatred, distrust and the looming threat of nuclear holocaust, for a few years it looked like the peoples of the West and East would live as friends and co-workers. The missiles were being decommissioned, the silos filled in. Across the world it seemed that our peoples would never again have to fear the threat of nuclear attack, or invasion from across the other side of the Iron Curtain.

And I also dug out the old copy of Pravda International out of a sense of mischief. RT UK and America have been under attack recently, accused of spreading Russian propaganda and interfering with our politics. What this means is that the Russian-owned news agency has actually done some good journalism, and uncovered the poverty, misery and despair caused by corporatist late capitalism and the gutting of the British and American welfare state and working class organisations. It’s what our own, domestic news networks should be reporting on, but instead they’ve been turned into part of the same corporate system, publishing nothing but mainstream propaganda for the corporatist elite and their puppets and shills in the political parties. I wanted to dig it out to show that the Russians have always had a media presence in the West, and there was a time when it also really frightened some capitalist interests. Although flicking through that issue of the magazine, many of the stories were about western businesses, including British firms, securing contracts to work with Soviet enterprises, as the economy opened up.

Russia, like everywhere else, is also suffering from environmental damage and climate change. Simon Reeve, in his recent TV journey across Russia from the Far East to St. Petersburg, stopped in Siberia to show the terrifying changes that are occurring in the Russian north. The permafrost is melting causing the remaining rock and soil to subside. This has created vast craters in the tundra. One Russian environmental scientist took Reeve to see one of these. It was staggering, the size of the vast Arizona meterorite crater in the US. It was as if a piece of land the size of a city had been scooped out of the Arctic.

These climatic changes are threatening the stability of many of the cities the Russians built up in the north. They’re also a further threat to all humanity, as they release methane, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than Carbon Dioxide. About 25 times more powerful. This threatens to create runaway global warming beyond the tipping point, to the point where the survival or human civilisation, if not the human species itself, is very much under threat.

Looking through this old issue of Pravda International, it was therefore particularly interesting to find an article by their staffer, Jennie Walsh, reporting the launch of a rock album by Greenpeace, released by the Soviet recording company Melodiya, to raise awareness of environmental issues.
The article, ‘Breakthrough for the Environment’, reads

The ecological pressure group Greenpeace has long highlighted the international potential of the environmental movement. The recent release of their rock compilation album, Breakthrough marks an important step forward for the campaign, and for Western music.

Two years ago Greenpeace chairman David McTaggart approached Ian Flookes of the Wasted Talent Artists Agency with a view to putting on a concert of Western bands in the Soviet Union in order to generate roubles for a Soviet-based Greenpeace campaign. Political problems prevented this at the time, but in the changing climate of perestroika the plans were restarted last year, though a compilation record was considered more appropriate.

‘After what happened at Chernobyl, I think the Soviet authorities have become extremely environment-conscious and their approach to Greenpeace and to the project has been one of great support’, Flookes told Pravda International.

With the full cooperation of the Soviet state record company Melodiya, who were granted independent status last year, Breakthrough is the first major release of contemporary Western rock music in the USSR.

It is the first time that Melodiya has been able to do a ‘normal’ promotion campaign, with many of the artists (who all gave their services free of charge) present at the Moscow launch in March. There was an incredible reception. One record store queue was over 7,000 people, which is quite phenomenal – even by Soviet standards!

The purpose behind Breakthrough, however, must not be forgotten amid such hysteria. Kate Karam of Greenpeace emphasised that in releasing the album, they wanted to educate as much as to entertain. Despite perestroika, it is still difficult to put out independent information in the USSR, and the album provided a vehicle for the distribution of a booklet highlighting the work of Greenpeace and the environmental problems of the USSR.

The profits from the record sales will be shared between Greenpeace and the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, one of the first independent, non-governmental organisations to be founded in the Soviet Union.

The money will be spent only on projects within the USSR. This is a major indication of the political changes that have taken place. Greenpeace is quite a radical organisation by any standards, and to have some of the top soviet scientists and public servants (including Velikov, vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) support them through the Foundation, has been vital to the project. It is also an important challenge – a challenge to get programmes started in the USSR while maintaining the traditional Greenpeace principle of direct action.

Several environmental projects have now been formally agreed. Greenpeace will use some of the funds from the record to organise an East-West exchange programme in cooperation with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, for children to study environmental problems. Projects in the pipeline include work with the International Foundation to establish a central clearing house for information on atmospheric pollution problems and trying to involve the Soviet Union in the campaign to stop the industrial pollution of the Baltic Sea.

‘We don’t want to impose our Western standards about the environment on the Soviet Union,’ explains Karam. ‘I think that’s a danger with many of the Western organisations taking advantage of the new political climate there. Greenpeace is going to Russia to learn about their specific problems, because it is wrong to develop homogeneous attitudes about the environment. We need to study and talk to people before we launch into setting up offices and membership drives. Getting educational materials out in Russia is a big enough challenge right now without going straight into direct action projects.’

The popularisation of ‘green politics’ in the West may be little more than rhetoric on the part of its leaders, but it has encouraged the critical eye to fall on eastern Europe with regard to its environmental record. The socialist system may have failed the environment as much as the capitalist, but the big difference is the West has had 10 years lead time with environmentalists pushing legislation through. ‘I think the question is now how bad the USSR’s record is, but what is going to happen over the next 10 years – not in the past 50. I don’t think its fair to criticise.’

Now that the Soviet authorities have made active moves to encourage environmental concern, particularly by creating a Ministry for the Environment, Greenpeace are keen to see whether other east European countries follow suit.

Breakthrough is to be released in all the east European countries as well as in the UK, USA, India, Australia and Japan, emphasising the international aspect of the green movement.

The release of the album worldwide, under the title Rainbow Warriors, will probably be slightly more of a gamble than it has been in the Soviet Union. Compassion fatigue in the West, however, might be overcome by the quality of the record.

There probably hasn’t been an album released yet, which features so many top musicians – U2, Simple Minds, The Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Sting to name a few. There are 26 tracks, all of which have recently been hits. For many, the album will probably have an intrinsic value just for this reason. The fact that it supports Greenpeace will be a bonus.

In the three weeks since the album was released in the USSR over 10,000 copies have been received on the forms that were enclosed in the information booklets.

The worldwide launch is on May 22nd and if it sells for reasons other than its musical content, its educational and mobilising potential could be as effective as the fundraising.

Now, unfortunately, we have had Russian hackers releasing scientific data in an attempt to discredit climate change and global warming, while Trump is also trying to stifle climate science, including the virtual closure of America’s Environmental protection Agency. He and the rest of the Republican party are determined that only the paid propagandists for the Koch brothers will be heard.

Vox Political on On-Line Petition to Have Laura Kuenssberg Sacked for Pro-Tory Bias

May 8, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political reports that an on-line petition has been revived to get Laura Kuenssberg, the politics editor of BBC news, sacked for her pro-Tory bias. There had previously been a petition to have her fired after she made a bitter tirade against the Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, on the News at Ten on the 6th January 2016. It seems that her outspoken bias against Labour during the council elections has been the final straw, and the campaign to have her lose her job has been revived.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/08/election-coverage-seems-last-straw-as-petition-to-sack-bbc-political-editor-is-revived/, and there’s a link to the 38 Degrees page for the petition. I also include the petition’s website address below:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/sack-laura-kuenssberg

I’ve signed it, as Kuenssberg anti-Labour bias is very obvious. Mike has previously put up an article showing that her discussion of one issue was nearly identical to a Tory press release, with but a few words changed. The BBC is supposed to be unbiased, but academic studies of the contents of their news programmes shows they’re far more likely to invite speakers from the Conservatives or right-wing organisations on to speak, and the general bias is much more to the right than other news broadcasts by their competitors, like Channel 4. And there is a movement within the Beeb to become overtly biased. I’ve mentioned before one article a year or so in the Radio Times in which the author discussed the possibility of broadcasters over here regaining ratings by becoming politically biased and abandoning impartiality, like Fox News. This isn’t a good role model. Fox News hasn’t got its monicker ‘Faux News’ for nothing. Somebody worked out that it only tells the truth 30% of the time, which means it’s effectively Murdoch’s own little Pravda for Republicans. it does not seem to me to be remotely surprising that the BBC should boast that it’s trusted the most by the managerial classes. It has a profoundly Establishment bias, reflecting their own attitudes and hostility to the working and lower middle classes.

And I don’t think writing letters to the Beeb’s programme, Points of View, will help. This has had a number of presenters since it was set up in the 1960s, and is supposed to be a show where the Beeb responds to their critics. Private Eye has run a number of pieces on the programme over the years, commenting on how it’s subtly constructed to show that the BBC was correct in whatever approach they adopted to a particular subject after all, or that they had plenty of other letters applauding them or accusing them of the opposite bias. Part of this tactic involves not actually telling the audience how many letters from the opposite point of view they’ve received. If say, they’ve received 50 letters attacking a programme, and only five letters supporting it, Points of View will nevertheless present an image that the number of letter received from both pro- and anti- camps were roughly equal. The Eye has attacked the programme for being condescending, coming from the age when Auntie Beeb knew best, and its critics had to shut up and take what was good for them.

The Beeb has a duty as a public service broadcaster to provide unbiased news, or at least, as close to unbiased as is humanly possible. The fact that they’re not is a threat to free speech and informed, public debate and political involvement. I don’t know if the petition to sack Kuenssberg will be successful. Possibly not. But at least it will show the Beeb that the great British public aren’t the naïve rubes they take us for, and that people are very much aware of their bias. If you feel the same, please take the opportunity to sign the petition above.

A Russian Joke about Jeremy Clarkson

December 6, 2014

Earlier this evening, in my post about Mike’s article asking that we all look out for and care for those, who will be alone, disabled, depressed and vulnerable this Christmas, I told an old Russian joke about the propagandistic nature of the Soviet press. The joke’s a pun on the names of the two major Soviet papers, Izvestia, ‘News’, and Pravda, ‘Truth’. The joke ran, ‘There’s no truth in the ‘News’, and no news in the ‘Truth”. I remarked that the situation was actually reversing, and that despite the considerable restrictions on the press in Putin’s Russia, the Russian press seemed to want to present a far more objective picture of the suffering of Britain’s poor than our own, supposedly unbiased, ‘free’ press.

Well, Communism has fallen, but Russian journalists were swift to point out that, at least when it came to the road infrastructure, capitalism still suffered from glaring contradictions as per Marxist ideology. The Russian newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, succinctly summarised this with a joke about Jeremy Clarkson.

Apart from being the celebrity motoring journalist with Top Gear here in Britain, Clarkson is also a Right-wing media pundit, issuing diatribes and tirades on TV and in his newspaper column against environmentalists, Guardian ‘yoghurt knitters’, political correctness and foreigners. All the usual targets of Right-wing populist ire. Komsomolskaya Pravda’s journos found it highly ironic and amusing when Cameron’s government last year announced that road pricing was to be introduced. Private companies were to be allowed to purchase, maintain and expand Britain’s road network, in return for which they would be able to charge a toll on certain roads. It’s really just a return to the 18th century toll road system. The major contender for purchasing and running Britain’s privatised roads, however, was the Chinese.

The world’s largest remaining Communist state.

And so Komsomolskaya Pravda’s report about this in their online edition concluded that ‘Jeremy Clarkson had collapsed through internal contradictions’.

A friend of mine found it online, and really enjoyed it. Okay, so it’s probably not the greatest backslapper, but it is a pithy comment on a bizarre and contradictory situation. And shows that the more outspoken media personalities over here are also something of a joke on that side of the Baltic.

Remembering the Victims of Cameron’s Benefit Cuts

December 6, 2014

Mike has an excellent post up over on Vox Political, urging us to remember the poor, disabled and vulnerable this Christmas. It ain’t an original message. Indeed, it’s been at the moral centre of Christmas, whether or not you are a Christian or merely keep it as a secular festival, ever since Charles Dickens effectively re-invented the holiday in A Christmas Carol.

Mike’s piece, however, gives it added urgency, because of the hidden cost in human lives of the government’s disastrous cuts to welfare benefits. These have meant that the poor, destitute and disabled are dying of their infirmities after being found ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, soon to be replaced by the equally scabrous and excremental Maximus. However, the government is determined to cover up these statistics. The official reason is that the statistics alone won’t tell you if the person dying would have passed away naturally from their illness, regardless of what help was given. Mike’s article shows exactly how this claim is sheer nonsense.

He also points out that another set of victims, whose deaths will also go unrecorded, will be those, who have taken their lives in desperation. He states

Some claimants take their own lives while on the benefit. This could be due to many reasons including the hopelessness of a situation where they foresee themselves being pushed off-benefit (this goes for people in both the WRAG and the Support Group because they are all under the threat of continual reassessment), or suffering more and more cuts to the amount received (in comparison with inflation) that their quality of life will suffer, or they’ll be kicked out of their homes, or they won’t be able to afford the necessities of their lives. The government does not record the number of people who do this and pays no attention to the verdicts of coroners performing inquests on them.

Apart from the well-known statistic that most suicides occur at Christmas, which is fine if you’re affluent, in good health and surrounded by friends and family, but terribly lone and depressing if you aren’t, Mike also reports the appalling statistic that more people decide to end their lives under Tory than Labour governments.

Hence the article strongly recommends that we all look out for people we know, who may be vulnerable and in danger this Christmas.

The article’s This Christmas, remember the hidden casualties of the Coalition years, and it’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2014/12/04/this-christmas-remember-the-hidden-casualties-of-the-coalition-years/.

One of the most fascinating pieces in the article is Mike’s statement that he recently had the pleasure of talking to a journalist from Russia Today about the problems of the poor in Britain, and the way the British government does not report the true extent of the suffering. He states that is truly something when a foreign news corporation takes more of an interest in this issue than the British press.

Absolutely. And it’s a complete reversal of the BBC’s boast that it is somehow a more trusted source of information than foreign news agencies, tightly controlled by the state.

You’ve probably seen the Beeb’s advert for itself, in which someone from the foreign service or an activist from a repressive regime talks about how they and their fellows used to listen to the BBC World Service as the only source of objective news about their country.

Now the tables have been turned. In the West, the Soviet Union and its satellites were the archetypal repressive dictatorships after the Fascist states of the Second World War. The news media in those nations were looked down upon – rightly – as just instruments of state propaganda. There was an old Soviet joke about the names of the two major Soviet papers, Izvestia, ‘News’, and the Communist Party paper, Pravda. The joke went that there was no Truth in the News, and no news in the Truth.

Even now, after the fall of Communism, there are still extremely strict limits on press reporting in Russia. Journalists have been beaten and murdered for reporting facts the authorities find inconvenient. Yet with all the restrictions, their media may be a more trustworthy source of news about the true state of our own society than the Beeb, which so proudly boasts of its impartiality and objectivity.

In which case, all I can say is ‘Slava Rossiskii zhurnali’ – Glory to the Russian newspapers. And apologies for my poor schoolboy Russian.

BBC’s Tricky Nick Robinson’s Misreporting of Alex Salmond on Scottish Independence

September 24, 2014

Mike over at his blog has frequently discussed the repeated misreporting and, indeed, deliberate censorship of left-wing demonstrations against the government by the BBC and the other mainstream broadcasters. Apart from the usual tactic of deliberately giving the number of protestors as smaller than there were in reality, the BBC has also totally omitted several major demonstrations against the government from its television news. Instead, some minimal coverage was grudgingly given to them on the radio and on-line. Several of Mike’s readers and commenters, including Mike himself, have complained about this. They’ve been brushed off with a standard reply about the limited amount of space available, and the necessity of skipping or omitting some items in favour of more important news. The Beeb has then smugly declared that it’s duly investigated the case, and found that everything was done properly and appropriately.

So that’s alright then, as Private Eye says when an organisation or authority guilty of misconduct similarly exonerates itself by giving the exact same reply.

The debates over Scottish independence, leading up to the referendum last Thursday, threw the BBC’s pro-government bias into sharp relief. The Corporation’s reporter, Nick Robinson, selectively edited and then completely falsified his report on a question he asked Scotland’s then First Minister about the possible damage independence might have to the nation’s finances. This was then edited by the Beeb to claim that the First Minister had attacked the treasury. Robinson stated that several of the banks and insurance companies, like the Royal Bank of Scotland, had stated that in the event of Scotland gaining its independence, they would move their headquarters from Edinburgh to London. This would, suggested Robinson, lead to a massive loss of corporation tax for the Scottish government.

Salmond disagreed. He gave the opinion of other leading financiers north of the border that there would be no significant loss of tax revenue, as corporation tax was paid in the country where there a corporation had most of its economic activity, not where it had its headquarters. The banks and other financial institutions may move south to London, but they would still end up paying the same amount of corporation tax. I noticed that the I newspaper made a similar claim. I also wondered how the Royal Bank of Scotland could possibly continue under its name, if it very unpatriotically pulled out of its home country.

This, however, was not the answer Robinson wanted. When Salmond moved on to answer questions from the other reporters present, Robinson heckled and continued to demand an answer from Salmond. Salmond returned to the point, gave a full answer, and pointedly stated that he knew the BBC would report it in its scrupulously unbiased reporting. He then tried to move on to questions from the foreign press. This wasn’t good enough for Robinson, who asked the same question, and got the same answer.

When the BBC reported Robinson’s question and Salmond’s reply, they selectively edited the footage so that it looked like Salmond was attacking the British treasury, and praising the BBC. In fact, as the original footage makes clear, Salmond had been making a veiled criticism of the quality of the BBC’s reporting. Later still, on Newsnight, Robinson claimed that Salmond had not answered his question at all: a bare-faced lie.

As you might expect, Scottish Nationalists are massively unimpressed with this blatant falsification by the BBC, and there are several videos about it on Youtube. Here are two I found that make the case particularly well.

This video, The BBC Is Killing Democracy, gives footage of what really happened when Robinson asked his question. It then gives Robinson’s own highly selective report, pointing out how it has been altered and edited to present the answer Robinson wanted, rather than the one he got. It then moves on to Robinson’s final report, where he lies and states that Salmond didn’t answer the question. It then concludes with a brief resume of Robinson’s and Salmond’s careers, pointing out that Robinson was first head of the Young Conservatives in Macclesfield, and then national head of the organisation.

This video, Dodgy reporting from BBC News Editor – Nick Robinson 11/09/2014 goes further, and gives the relevant passages in the BBC’s charter that demand impartiality, and which the BBC’s reporting of Robinson’s question to Salmond broke.

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There were protests against the BBC’s biased reporting of the independence campaign outside the BBC’s headquarters in Scotland on the 1st and 29th June 2014. This video below, Protest Against BBC Scotland Referendum Bias shows pro-independence Scots discussing the Beeb’s bias, and their disillusionment with the Corporation.

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One of the women speaking is actually an English person living in Scotland. She states that she is voting for independence for Scotland because she is worried about the Westminster establishment’s destruction of the NHS and tuition fees. She states her daughter will not be able to afford to go to uni, and the only people that will, will be the elite.

Robinson’s deliberate falsification of Salmond’s answer is important far beyond the immediate debate about Scots independence. Regardless of one’s personal opinion of that particular issue, it should concern everyone worried about the Beeb’s pro-establishment bias. It’s clear and undeniable evidence that the Corporation has blatantly lied in order to serve the interests of the Tory Westminster elite. It also shows how Tricky Nick Robinson really is little more than a Corporation apparatchik spouting propaganda, and that the BBC is now well and truly the establishment’s equivalent of Pravda and TASS, the state news agency in the Soviet Union or the various state-controlled newspapers and broadcasters in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.