Posts Tagged ‘World in Action’

RT Interview with John Pilger ahead of British Library Exhibition

December 6, 2017

In this edition of RT’s Going Underground, main man Afshin Rattansi talks to the veteran, prize-winning investigative journalist, John Pilger, about his work. The topics covered include NATO wars, Nelson Mandela and mainstream journalism. Pilger is best known for his work uncovering and documenting the horrors of the Vietnam War and the horrific genocide in Cambodia by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. There’s going to be an exhibition of his work at the British Library on the 8th and 9th (of December, 2017), and this interview clearly looks forward to that. Pilger states that he’s delighted that the British Library are hosting the exhibition. He’s a fan of the building, and also notes with satisfaction that this was the place where Marx sat down to write his works, that would eventually bring down the Russian Empire a few short decades later.

The interview consists of a series of clips from documentaries Pilger has made over the years, and his comments about them. And they’re very revealing, not least in the reaction of the establishment to some of his work after it was aired, and the abuse he also got for not treating Nelson Mandela as the saint he became after he was released from prison. And after hearing Pilger’s explanation why he asked Mandela difficult questions, you’ll realise that Pilger was right to do so.

The first clip is of an American squaddie in the Vietnam War describing how he doesn’t understand what he and the other American soldiers are doing in the country. The soldier also doesn’t seem to know why the Vietnamese are firing at them. He only knows that they do, and they have to fight them back. Pilger states that he filmed this at the time there was a massive rebellion throughout the American armed forces, because very many other troopers also couldn’t see why they were in the country being shot and killed either.

And the reaction to that piece by the independent television regulator is revealing. The man was furious, and denounced it as treason or subversion, or some such similar betrayal of the western side. However, the head of Granada, who screened the documentary – it was made for ITV’s World In Action – Lord Bernstein, stood up to the regulator, and told him that this was the kind of journalism he wanted more of. Well done! I wish we had more of that attitude now. Unfortunately, the attitude amongst our broadcasters today seems to be to cave in whenever the government or someone in authority takes offence. So we now have a cowed, craven media that just seems to go along with whatever the elite – and very often that means the clique surrounding Rupert Murdoch and other multinational capitalists and media moguls – decide is news and the approved, neoliberal, capitalist viewpoint.

He then goes on to another clip showing the horrors of Year Zero in Cambodia. Pilger here describes some of the most striking incidents and images that came to him when he was filming there. Like the scores of bank notes floating about, because the Khmer Rouge had blown up the banks. There was all this money, and it was absolutely worthless. He describes a scene in which an old lady was using bundles of notes to light a fire.

Pilger points out that by the CIA’s own admission, it was American carpet-bombing that brought the Khmer Rouge to power. The CIA came to that conclusion in a report that it published. If Nixon and Killary’s best buddy, Kissinger, hadn’t tried to bomb the country back into the Stone Age, the Khmer Rouge would have remained a marginal political sect with no power. In doing so, Tricky Dicky and Kissinger created the conditions which saw Pol Pot and his butchers come to power, and then proceed to murder something like a fifth or more of the country’s people. Pilger also notes that the western condemnation of the Khmer Rouge was blunted by the fact that after they treated into the forest, the West still had an alliance with them and supported them against the Chinese.

However, his coverage of the Cambodia atrocities also brought out British people’s generosity. He describes how the documentary resulted in £50 million being raised for Cambodia and its people. And this was unsolicited. He describes how Blue Peter organised children’s bring and buy sales. He tells how the money raised was used to build factories to make the goods people needed, including clothes. One of the weird orders of the regime was that Cambodians could only wear black, and so there was a demand for normal coloured clothes.

Then on to Nelson Mandela. Pilger points out that Mandela wasn’t a saint, as he himself admitted. ‘It wasn’t the job I applied for’, said the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Pilger got in trouble because he asked Mandela an awkward question about nationalisation. The ANC’s ‘Charter for Freedom’ stated that they were going to nationalise industry, or at least the major sectors, such as mining. Pilger, however, got Mandela to admit that they were going to keep everything in private hands, which directly contradicted the Charter.

Pilger goes on to link this with the continuation of apartheid, albeit in a different form. While race-based apartheid had fallen and been dismantled, a class-based apartheid continued, in which the masses still lived in grinding poverty. Pilger states that, while the ANC had previously been respected, it has now become the subject of hatred and contempt. He also makes the point that Mandela’s accession to power allowed many White liberals to cling on to their power and position.

The next clip is from a piece of domestic reporting Pilger did here in the UK. It’s from a programme he made, following the life and work of Jack, a worker in a dye factory, in which the documentary makers met his family, and recorded his opinions. Pilger states that, while there are more diverse voices heard in the media now, the lives of ordinary, working people are generally ignored and the media is very much dominated by the middle classes. He describes how interesting and revealing it was just to follow the man around, listening to him talk about his life and work.

The last clip is of him taking a female spokesperson from the Beeb to task for its apparent bias against the Palestinians. He asks her why the BBC is content to interview the Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev, armed with the whole battery of Israeli functionaries ready to give the official Israeli view, but haven’t found someone of a similar level, who is able to articulate the Palestinian position with the same clarity and authority. The Beeb spokeswoman replies that the Corporation has tried to find someone to speak for the Palestinians, but they can’t be responsible for choosing their spokespeople for them. Pilger uses this clip to point out how the mainstream media acts as propaganda outlet for the establishment, in a way which RT doesn’t. He also makes the point that Regev is now the Israeli ambassador.

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Guy Debord’s Cat: Violence to Fascists Is Justified

September 9, 2017

Following the violent clashes between the White supremacists, neo-Confederates and outright Nazis and the counter-protesters in Charlottesville the week before last, there have been a series of articles and denunciations of the Anti-Fascists for their physical attacks on the marching hordes of the extreme Right. One of those criticizing them is the veteran critic of capitalism, racism and imperialism, Noam Chomsky, who stated that by using violence, Antifa handed them a ‘propaganda coup’. Others have gone further, and complained that Antifa are against free speech, and so are as bad, or worse, as the Nazis they attacked.

The French philosophical feline strongly rejects this attitude, and has written a blog post explaining just why he supports violence against Fascism. This includes two videos, both of which are well worth watching. One is about the 43 Group, a band of Jewish ex-servicemen, who had seen for themselves the horrific results of Nazi anti-Semitism when they were among the troops, who liberated Auschwitz. After the War, they were disgusted to find the kind of people, who had committed such monstrous atrocities were not only at large, but preaching their murderous doctrines and hatred. They resolved to treat them as they deserved, and hit them time and again force them off the streets.

The second video is presented by Mensi Mensforth, a member of the eighties band Angelic Upstarts. He also talks about the long history of anti-Fascists using physical violence, from struggles in the 1930s against Mosley’s BUF, to today’s battles with the NF and related Nazi gangs. Mensforth and the others speaking on the programme make the point that the people the Antifa are fighting are themselves extremely violent. They talk about Asians in the poorer parts of Britain being firebombed out of their homes. Mensforth himself describes how his stance against the NF so infuriated them, that they tried to silence him by attacking him at one of the Upstart’s gigs. He was saved by Antifa, who were there to defend him.

The Cat starts off by making the point that Antifa is a position, not an organization. The word stands for Anti-Fascist Action, and while later in the article he states that Anti-Fascist Action was set up in 1985 by Red Action and other anti-Fascist groups, he makes the point that if you are opposed to Fascism, then you are Antifa. He also makes the point that Nazis and related organisations in the US have been allowed to march by claiming free speech as their defence, and supported by the local law enforcement agencies and Libertarian organisations, some of whom have their own, very dubious agendas.

Buddy Hell is particularly annoyed by the middle class liberals, who are defending the Nazis’ right to say the unspeakable. He makes the point that Fascists are capitalism’s shock troops. Their leaders come from the middle and upper classes, and they and their vile doctrine emerge when capitalism is in crisis. And they don’t march through White, middle class areas. Their purpose is to divide the working class, and they march through working class and immigrant neighbourhoods as a display of triumphalism and a provocation.

He also makes the point that Fascists are also supported by the petite bourgeoisie and sections of the free press. The free world has tolerated the seizure of power by innumerable right-wing dictatorial groups, but the moment a left-wing government appears the supposed free world immediately tries to destabilize it.

And Fascists themselves are extremely violent. He states very graphically that if you turn the other cheek to a Fascist, they’ll slash it with a razor, and says

I support the activities of militant anti-fascists because I think their use of force is a necessary tactic to counter the violence of the far-right on the streets. If you think allowing neo-fascists a platform to say whatever they like is necessary because you believe everyone has a right to free speech, just imagine what would happen if the far-right ever came to power. The free speech, that you cherish so dearly, would be taken away and you’d be carted off to prison or worse. Now you can accuse me of histrionics if you like, but you’ll have to name a country in which the far-right have gained power and have allowed people to criticize them. I can’t think of one.

See: https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/militant-anti-fascism-why-i-support-it/

Now I don’t support violence against anyone, and don’t wish to encourage any more of it, even against the Far Right. Real violence is anything but fun, and people have been seriously hurt and killed in the battles between Fascists and anti-Fascists.

But the Cat is right on several points. Fascists are and have always been extremely violent. They’ve been so every since George Sorel wrote his ‘Reflexions sur la Violence’ as a militant 19th century anarcho-syndicalist. Sorel later rejected syndicalism in favour of extreme right-wing nationalist and monarchist groups, but his book remained popular and influential amongst right-wing intellectuals like Mussolini. The kernel of Fascism in Italy were the Fasci di Combattimenti, bands of demobilized ex-servicemen, who went around beating up Socialists, Communists and anyone they thought that was insufficiently patriotic, or just didn’t like. One of their symbols, was the fasces – the bundle of rods with an axe sticking out, which symbolized the power of the lictor, the Roman official, who could have citizens beaten and beheaded. The other, rather less official, but very widely used, was the manganello. This was the club with which Fascist gangs used to beat their opponents in street battles, after which the victims were dosed with castor oil to humiliate them by making them soil themselves.

Before the Nazis seized power in Germany, they also used to go round fighting street battles and beating up Jews and leftists. One of their songs in Berlin was all about how they were going to carry on beating people up, ‘until the Jew lies bleeding at our feet’.

And they weren’t any better in Britain. Mosley’s BUF lost its support partly because it was notorious for its violence, particularly after the infamous Olympia rally, where the BUF’s stewards savagely beat a number of left-wing protestors. And after the war, the BNP, NF and related groups deliberately recruited ‘bovver boys’ and football hooligans. Or as one of their leaders themselves said at the time, ‘robust young men to defend Britain against Communism’. And the evidence for their extreme violence is extremely plentiful. If you go on YouTube, there are a number of videos from World In Action and other documentaries showing just how brutally violent they are. And more often than not, their victims are the weak and defenceless. One of the speakers in one of these documentaries is a female teacher, who describes how she and her colleagues were attacked without provocation by a group of NF thugs when they were having a meeting in a pub. Matthew Collins in his book, Hate, describes how he participated in an attack on an anti-Nazi meeting in one of the rooms above the local library. Those they attacked were mostly women, including a pregnant Asian lady, who was so terrified she tried to barricade herself in the toilets. These are not thugs attacking other thugs. They’re bullies. And when they do meet concerted, violent resistance, as one of the speakers in one of the videos says, they run away.

The decision of the ’43 group to give a dam’ good hiding to the Fascists is entirely understandable. One of the speakers in the video describes how he and the other old comrades put their hands together with Rabbi Hardman, the Jewish army chaplain, and swore ‘Never again’ when they saw the sheer carnage and barbarity at Auschwitz. Rabbi Hardman states he saw bodies piled as high as the surrounding buildings. Another squaddies tells how he met one woman, one of the death camp’s inmates, who had been driven mad because the Nazis had snatched her baby away from her, thrown it up into the air, and then shot it. This treatment wasn’t unique to the Jews. The Beeb a little while ago screened a programme about the Nazi occupation of Poland. One of the incidents that occurred there was when Polish mothers were required to take their children to be examined by the reich authorities. One woman’s child was deemed biologically unfit. It was snatched out of its mother’s arms, thrown onto the floor, and shot.

Most normal people would have felt horror and anger if they had witnessed what these servicemen had seen. And when it is done to one’s own ethnic or religious group, when one thinks how it could have been one’s own spouse, parents, children, or other relatives and friends lying down there among the bodies, those feelings are naturally going to turn into an intense rage, or in this case, a steely determination to do everything they could to stop it ever occurring again.

The speakers in the video make the point that they didn’t reject non-violent persuasion. They tried it, and found that it didn’t work. They state that it was a case of ‘both…and…’ rather than ‘either…or…’. But it didn’t work on the convinced Fascists. And so they resolved to disrupt their meetings and force them off the streets.

At the time there were 40 or so Fascist meetings every month in London, and the BUF, or Mosley’s successor organisations, were not opposed, and indeed supported, by the London police. This has been corroborated by other historians. Larry O’Hara wrote an article in Lobster back in the 1990s about how the metropolitan police turned a blind eye to Fascist meetings, even when they openly broke the law. Such as drinking a toast to the destruction of the Jews. Indeed, it was quite often anti-Fascist protesters, who were arrested, rather than the stormtroopers.

Not all police forces were as tolerant as London’s, however. One of the speakers describes how they heard that the Blackshirts were planning to go down and hold a rally in Brighton. So the ’43 Group let the Brighton fuzz know they would also be down there to disrupt the meeting. The rozzers duly replied that the Fascists were quite within their rights, and the police would allow them to go ahead following the principle of free speech. But in practice, they only sent one officer. He was obviously just a token presence, and the former servicemen were able to give their opponents a sound beating.

They describe how, when they attacked a Fascist gathering, their intention was to seize and overturn the podium. Among those, who got what they deserved was Hamm, Mosley’s second in command. They also reveal that they had considerable information given to them about the location of meetings and so on from informers within the Fascists’ own ranks. These were people, who had joined the party, and found out it wasn’t what they thought it was. Ultimately, the ’43 group were successful. They point out that due to their attacks Mosley couldn’t appear in public, and they talk about their pride as Jews and citizens in closing him down.

Mensforth’s video also begins with people from the East End describing the antics of Mosley’s Blackshirts in their day, and their role in the Battle of Cable Street. This was when the BUF tried to march through the East End, but were beaten off by a group of trade unionists, Communists and Jews. The speakers describe how they also fought the police, who were protecting the Fascists.

Describing the activities of contemporary Nazis, they point out that they want to keep the working class divided, and encourage racial hatred to that end. When there are no ethnic minorities available for them to whip up hate against, as in Glasgow, they find another outsider group to serve the same purpose, like Roman Catholics. One of the speakers is a Glaswegian, who was a former member of one of the Fascist groups in Scotland, as well as a Protestant supporter of one of the very Unionist football clubs. One of the songs their supporters sing is ‘Billy’s Boys’. He states most of the supporters think it’s about William of Orange, but in fact it’s about one of Mosley’s lieutenants in that part of Scotland in the 1930s. This particular speaker was drawn into it through the sectarian politics of Scots football clubs. He left when he started getting leaflets from the organization telling him to support their policies against Israel, and supporting South American dictators and death squads.

Watching these videos, it struck me that some, at least, of the violent antifa, aren’t thugs using violence for the sheer pleasure of it. They’re just people, who actually take Fascism seriously. Very seriously. To many people, the Fascist fringe are so grotesque that they’re a joke, and the numbers involved in their marches are so trivial that there’s absolutely no danger of these morons gaining power. They’re figures of fun, like the American National Socialist White People’s Party in the Blues Brothers. And it’s because they aren’t taken as a serious threat, that they and their wretched marches are tolerated. Despite considerable, and very vocal opposition, I hasten to add.

And indeed there is a certain amount of grim humour to be found there. They are so twisted, that they can be unintentionally hilarious, and mocking them does have the right effect. Hope Not Hate a few days ago put up a piece about how one of the squadristi was upset with the organization, because it was taking the mick out of him. And Private Eye also reported how members were leaving the BNP after it had been mocked in the pages of Ian Hislop’s mighty organ. The Third Reich was long ago, and so were the various Fascist dictatorships in Central and South America, as well as all the other brutal right-wing regimes that have seized power around the world.

But if you’ve seen what Fascism has done, and your family and friends have been attacked or worse by its supporters over here, your attitude might be very different. The Klan and the neo-Confederates really aren’t a joke to Blacks, Jews and other minority groups, because of the lynchings and the use of terror and extreme violence. Over in Britain, the British Fascist groups supported not only the Unionist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, but they also gave sanctuary to a group of Italian Fascists in the 1980s following the Bologna railway bombing, which killed more than a hundred people. And given the horrific atrocities the death squads committed in Latin America – things so revolting that they cannot be decently described in a family blog, it becomes a very good question why the members of various Conservative and Libertarian societies weren’t attacked or beaten when they decided to invite these scum to their annual dinners.

I don’t support violence, let alone vigilanteeism, but the Cat has done a good job in explaining why violent resistance against Fascism may be justified. As he points out, this is violence against those, who are absolutely serious in their intention to imprison, torture and kill millions, if they came to power. Their tolerated at the moment because they aren’t a significant threat. But that can change. Free speech is not an absolute, and there have to be limits to toleration. It’s why we have laws against hate speech, no matter how they right may decry them as ‘political correctness’.

Police Black Sites in America, and the Death of Hilda Murrell

February 28, 2015

Police Black Site in Chicago

This is another video from The Young Turks. Secret CIA Black Sites in American Heartland for ‘Disappearing’ Citizens reports an article from the Guardian a few days ago revealing the existence of a ‘black site’ run by the local police in Homan Square in Chicago. It was a secret detention centre where suspects were taken. They were not allowed access to their lawyers, read their Miranda warning, or booked in, as required in normal police procedure at American police precincts. Those detained were also frequently beaten.

Normally, those arrested and taken to the site were only there for a few days, before being put back in normal police custody. Some, however, have died at the centre, such as a man, who was found unresponsive at an interrogation room, and later declared dead in hospital.

Cenk Uyghur, the Turks’ anchor, links this case to the use of CIA Black Sites used to disappear suspected terrorists throughout the world, including Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. He quotes Tracy Siska, an American civil rights activist and criminologist working in the Chicago justice department. Siska and Uyghur state very firmly that this is the result when the intelligence agencies are able to get away with illegal and unconstitutional actions. These procedures then get back into the American civil system, to corrupt and pervert normal law enforcement. One of those detained without access to a lawyer was a NATO protester.

Hilda Murrell

I’ve reblogged this because it raises important questions about what our security services over here have also been doing. Britain was very firmly complicit in the extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects, who were deported to nations, where they would be tortured to extract information from them. British citizens were also interned at Gitmo.
The death of the NATO protester after being abducted by the cops and illegally imprisoned in Homan Square also seems to me to be extremely and uncomfortably similar to the death in March 1984 of Hilda Murrell.

Murrell was an elderly lady living in Llanymynech, near Oswestry. She was an anti-nuclear campaigner with links to the protest groups END, ECOROPA and MCANW. Her nephew was Commander Robert Green, a naval intelligence officer. When Tam Dalyell raised questions over Murrell’s death, he was informed that Commander Green was the officer, who passed on the order to the Conqueror to sink the Belgrano during the Falklands War. He also passed the message from HMS Endurance to Northwood HQ informing them that the Argentinians were about to invade.

On Friday, 23rd March Murrell disappeared from her home. Her body was eventually found three miles away. The official police investigation concluded that she had been the victim of a burglary. Supposedly, she had caught the burglar in the act. He had killed her, and then taken her body to dump elsewhere. Others at the time were unconvinced. If she really had been killed by a burglar, why, for example, had he put the body in his car and then driven around town, where she was seen by no less than 69 people?

Her now empty house caught fire on the 26th January 1985. This was blamed on arson, but no-one was ever caught, nor was it attributed to Welsh Nationalists, who had begun burning down holiday homes owned by the English. Furthermore, during the investigation the police called in Home Office forensic scientists, which was highly unusual if it was an ordinary arson. Murrell was also a very close friend of Catriona Guthrie and her boyfriend, ‘LM’ or ‘Malcolm’. The three of them used to attend meetings of the Shrewsbury peace group together. Yet Guthrie and her boyfriend were never questioned by police.

Murrell’s death has been investigated and reported by several people and organisations, including Robert Green, Tam Dalyell, Graham Smith, John Osborne, Amanda Mitchison, Bob Parker, David Cole, Peter Acland, Nick Davies, Gary Murray, Lobster’s Robin Ramsay, John Stalker, Judith Cook, West Mercia Police, and the documentary series Crimewatch for the Beeb, and ITV’s World In Action.

Lobster magazine has published several articles on her death. One of these, ‘Hilda Murrell: A Death in the Private Sector’, was an anonymous piece written by a former director of the Institute of Professional Investigators. This described the links between MI5, the Institute, and Zeus Security, a private security firm run by Peter Hamilton, a former major in Army Intelligence. The author stated that MI5 contracted out the surveillance of suspect groups and individual to private security firms, such as Zeus Security. The author of the article stated that one of his informants was a former captain in British Military Intelligence. This informant, according to the article, gave its author detailed descriptions of unlawful killings carried out on the instructions of MI5. He also stated that some of these killings were carried out by ‘renegade SAS types’ just ‘for kicks’. In the opinion of the writer of the Lobster article, Murrell was murdered by a private operation, not an official espionage operation. He believed that Murrell had interrupted a break-in by one of the private security firms contracted by MI5. The gaol of the operation was simply to see if she had sensitive information about Sizewell. When she discovered them, they panicked, abducted and killed her. One of the private operatives used by MI5 through the IPI was Vic Norris, aka Adrian Hampson, who had several convictions for sex offences and violence.

Peter Smith, in another Lobster article, ‘The Murder of Hilda Murrell: Conspiracy Theories Old and New’, reports that Guthrie became a prison visitor after Murrell’s murder. She was told by a convict in Lincoln that he had been a member of the team that broke into Murrell’s house. Their leader reported to the Cabinet Office through an MI5 liaison officer, and they had been ordered to look for papers for Naval Intelligence. One of those suggested as possible members of the team was David Gricewith. Gricewith was an armed robber, and was probably responsible for the killing of Sgt John Speed in Leeds. He allegedly did undercover work, including acting as an agent provocateur, for the intelligences and was also, allegedly, involved in far right politics. Gricewith died after supposedly accidentally shooting himself during his arrest by the police for armed robbery.

The Tories and Lib Dems Attack on Human Rights

If the security agencies really were assassinating British citizens through the use of private security firms in the 1980s, then the threat to the human rights of British citizens is even greater now. The Tories and Lib Dems have passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts. These are intended to protect sensitive information and the identities of intelligence operatives in cases involving national security. As a result, the accused may not be present during the trial. They may not be informed of certain pieces of evidence, nor know the identities of their accusers. All of these violate the fundamental principles of British justice going all the way back to Magna Carta.

The law also provides for a system of virtual ‘internal exile’, in which a person suspected of terrorism offences may be removed from his home, family or friends, and relocated as much as 100 miles away, again without legal representation.

Finally, the Tories and UKIP have also made it very clear that they are opposed to the European Court of Human Rights. They have said that they wish to see European human rights legislation repealed in this country, and replaced by a British bill of rights. Several bloggers have pointed out how malign and pernicious this idea is. The Tories and Kippers have claimed that the European Human Rights legislation is the result of the EU. It isn’t, and the European Court of Human Rights is part of the Council of Europe, a separate international body. They also claim that such legislation allows terrorists to remain in Britain and resist the threat of deportation. It doesn’t.

The Tories and UKIP are lying.

Whatever the effect may be on terrorists, if the European Human Rights Act is repealed, the British bill of rights which will replace it will be much weaker. It will not protect British citizens from Kafkaesque secret trials, in which they will not even be told what offence they have committed. It would also make such ‘Black Sites’, like that run by the cops in Chicago, legal.

And then, rather than enjoying the freedom guaranteed by Magna Carta, will be under a system of ‘Nacht und Nebel’ such as that imposed by the Nazis. The phrase means ‘night and fog’, and refers to the extraordinary system of imprisonment in which opponents of the regime simply disappeared.

This is what the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers want for Britain. And they must be stopped. As we have seen, the Tories actively copy and take over American policies. If they get in, the Chicago Black Site will come over here. If it hasn’t already.

Sources

Anonymous, ‘Hilda Murrell: A Death in the Private Sector’, Lobster 16: 25-9.

Peter Smith, ‘The Murder of Hilda Murrell: Conspiracy Theories New and Old’, Lobster 28: 28-30.

A Memoir of a Brutal Life in British Fascism

May 29, 2014

Matthew Collins book

Matthew Collins, Hate: My Life in the British Far Right (London: Biteback Publishing 2011). With a foreword by Billy Bragg.

This is a grim book about grim people. Extremely grim and unpleasant people. The kind of people Norman Stanley Fletcher, the balladeer of H.M. Prison Slade, used to describe as ‘charmless nerks’. Collins is a writer and researcher for the anti-Fascist magazine, Searchlight. The blurb on the back describes him as the organisation’s Northern Ireland correspondent, and states that he is noted for his work exposing the English Defence League. Before he joined Searchlight, he was a committed member of the Far Right. This is his account of his passage through the various British Fascist parties and their allies – the NF, the BNP, Combat 18 and the UDA, before disgust at their leadership and extreme brutality led him to contact Searchlight. His part in exposing a still unnamed Sun journalist as an NF member and a World In Action documentary into Combat 18, supplying arms to the UDA, eventually forced him to flee England for Australia. He spent 10 years in Oz, enjoying a life of carefree pleasure, meaningless sex, and marriage, before finally returning to Blighty to continue the struggle.

Unlike other, more academic books, which analyse the NF, BNP and related Fascist organisations from the perspective of their ideologies, electoral performance and demographic composition of their membership, Collins autobiographical account describes what life in the Far Right is actually like for the rank-and-file members. These are the storm troopers, who spend their weekends travelling across Britain to parade on marches, attend speeches and rallies, and get extremely drunk, threaten and beat up ‘Reds’, Blacks, Asians, gays, and just about anyone and everyone they don’t like. Which really could be anyone and everyone. There’s a description in the book of how the NF’s storm troopers trashed a pub during a weekend away in Brighton, simply because one of the barmaids objected to one of the skinhead thugs attempting to grab the phone from her hand and demanding that she call him a taxi. Collins makes it extremely clear that these are extremely violent, brutal men.

The ‘Political Soldier’ NF

Collins joined after the NF had split into two factions. One of these, led by Griffin, was the ‘Political Soldier’ movement, This took its inspiration from Roberto Fiore and other terrorists from the Italian Forza Nuova. They were attempting to stem the drift away from Fascism under Thatcher by developing new ideological strands, some of which were more left-wing. They took over elements from Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya and revolutionary Iran. Some aspects of these new ideologies were more left-wing than the NF’s usual stance. For example, during the Miners’ Strike one faction within the NF offered help to the strikers, which Scargill obviously declined. The rank-and-file members weren’t interested in this. Collins says they had no interest in going to a remote farmhouse to answer detailed questions on their personal political and religious convictions. They are really interested in getting drunk and beating someone to a pulp.

Fascism and Political Violence

And the violence is very, very brutal. Far more brutal than the gang fights kids get into a school. It takes no account of age or gender, and continues even when the victim is on the floor. These are people, who by and large think nothing of maiming and ultimately killing their victims. Collins describes how deeply ashamed he was at taking part in a BNP attack on an anti-Fascist meeting at Welling Library, during which 17 people were hospitalised. Nearly all of these were women. Most of them were Asians, worried about the safety of their children in an area with so much racist violence against them. One of the intended victims was pregnant, and locked herself in the ladies’ loos for safety, while the men outside tried to get in to attack her and her unborn child. On their way in, they punched Geoffrey Dixon, the Labour councillor for Greenwich and the caretaker to the floor, and then stamped on them. Collins states that the caretaker never worked again. Some of the victims were so terrified that they jumped from the windows – the meeting was held on the first floor – to escape. Collins states that he and one of the other storm troopers were the only ones to hit men during the assault, which even sickened the other Fascist. Collins himself was so shocked and disgusted that he left and rejoined the NF for a while. Later on Collins tells how the BNP and its supporting football hooligans attacked the Liberal candidate for Bermondsey, Simon Hughes, in his battle bus.

Fascist Violence and Intimidation at University Meeting

And Fascists behave no better when in an academic environment. Collins describes the atmosphere of threat, intimidation and abuse produced by the BNP when they organised an event at which David Irving, the notorious holocaust denier, spoke. Collins does not give the name of the institution, which hosted the meeting, but states that it was held – incredibly – in the International Students’ House. The BNP stewarding the event effectively take over the library, at one point stopping the terrified students from leaving, then allowing them to come and go as they wish, but under their supervision. Seeing a group from anti-Fascist Action outside the window, the Nazis immediately begin to make ape noises and shout challenges and anti-Semitic abuse. They also generally behave as drunken louts, indecently exposing themselves, tearing books off shelves, and intruding into small, private discussion groups. A few tried to pick up two African girls, while another tried to press his unwelcome attentions on a blonde woman, who shut herself in her office, leaving the offended Nazi banging on the door and loudly declaring his love and sexual intentions outside. Collins describes it as like a prison riot.

This description of the loutish antics of the BNP, even in an academic environment, is important. In the 1980s a number of branches of the Students’ Union passed rules stating that the Union was a ‘no platform for racists and Fascists’. It’s a controversial decision, as some, who are definitely not Fascists or Fascist sympathisers, feel that it’s anti-democratic. There was also obviously enormous controversy when the Oxford Union back in the 1990s invited Irving to speak. Collins description of this episode and the aggressive, threatening and generally disgusting behaviour by the BNP actually shows you how wise the Anti-Fascist groups are to try and keep them off campus, if only to protect the students themselves, regardless of any wider political issues.

Fascists Personally Sad Inadequates

There’s a danger in that describing violence, whether by Fascists or any other group of thugs, can also glamorise it, making it appear attractive, even admirable. Collins avoids this. He makes it very clear how brutal and unpleasant it actually is, how ashamed he is of his part in it, and how sad and pathetic the men involved actually are. Pathetic? Yes, really. He states that by and large, the members of the Far Right are so unattractive to the opposite gender that they have actually little chance of getting girlfriends or having any kind of sex life. Collins does seem to have had a string of extremely short-term relationships, but they mostly never called him back. He mostly solved his own problems in finding female company through amassing a collection of porn and self-abuse. When he did finally succeed in getting what looked like a long-term relationship, the girl left him because she couldn’t take his involvement in Fascism and its dangers any longer. He is particularly scathing about the sexual inadequacies of his fellow Fascists, and their lack of physical endowment. It’s low stuff, but it makes them unattractive at the level such groups aim at. You consider the way violent criminals, like East End White gangsters, and gangsta rappers, are often portrayed surrounded by attractive young women. The message of those images is that if you were similarly a vicious hard man, you too will have girls flinging themselves at you. Collins here shows that in the case of Fascism, this very definitely will not happen. The only people within the Fascist milieu that have any kind of sex life are the skinheads, and he’s not impressed with them. He sees them as quite squalid individuals, fathering children with three or four different women, who in turn have other kids by three or four different fathers. The men just seem to use them purely for sex, and he describes the skinhead girls as going from one meaningless, squalid relationship to another with a mattress tied to their backs.

NF’s Ian Anderson More Basil Fawlty than Hitler

Some of the Fascist leaders are also less than impressive up close. Collins describes Ian Anderson, the leader of the NF faction he joined, as a rather Fawlty-esque figure. Anderson had a vicious temper, flying into abusive rages whenever anything went wrong, to the point where Collins calls him ‘Angry Anderson’. An Oxford drop out, Anderson was physically scruffy and his house a mess. Collins describes him wearing worn, threadbare suits. His living room floor was covered with newspapers and other rubbish. His furniture was similarly worn and threadbare. His settee had no seat, so that if you sat on it, you were effectively sitting on the floor. At one point the house is such a mess that the other leading storm troopers don’t want to go there for meetings.

Anderson was trying to lead his faction of the NF away from anti-Semitism in an attempt to make it more electorally respectable. Collins states that some of his fellow storm troopers shared his views. One of his friends told him that while they hated non-Whites, they really didn’t understand the hatred of the Jews. This policy was not having much success, however, and Anderson’s NF were losing members fast due to competition from the much more aggressive and overtly Nazi BNP, led by Richard Edmonds and Tyndall. Collins and many of the other members were left dispirited and disillusioned by Anderson’s leadership. Turnout at parades and marches were tiny often as low as thirty. Towards the end of that section of the NF, they were reaching as low as perhaps ten or twelve. Anderson himself also seemed to regard the NF as a business, to provide him with a personal income, at one point asking the party’s governing body to give him £8,000. Even here, his management was not very business-like. Orders and correspondence went unread, and cheques weren’t cashed or paid in. Faced with this venality and incompetence, Collins and many others left to join the BNP.

BNP Nazi, Viciously Anti-Semitic

These were overtly, aggressively Nazi. Not only did their literature deny the reality of the Holocaust, but its members also looked forward to a similar policy of racial extermination. Collins states that when he was in there, although in his calmer moments he wanted a bloodless, painful removal of Jews and non-Whites from Britain, he also dreamed of sending them ‘to the East’, as the Nazis deported the Jews and their other victims to the concentration camps. The BNP also had links to surviving Nazis and members of Mosley’s BUF. He describes the chaos and violence at the Kensington Library meeting, which ultimately led to the formation of the extremely violent Combat 18. This was a meeting of the League of St. George, whose doorman was dressed in full Nazi regalia. This was gatecrashed by Searchlight’s Gerry Gable and a squad of about fifty anti-Fascists. Despite Gable’s appeal for calm, the meeting degenerated into violence and the Nazis were given a vicious beating.

Origins of Combat 18

Combat 18’s origins are murky, and there is considerable evidence of state involvement. Charlie Sargent, its founder, whom Collins describes as ‘an overweight, knife-carrying, drug-peddling lout’, was later revealed to be a police informer. Harold Covington, who was also involved in its foundation, may also have been connected to the American intelligence services. I have seen the accusation that Combat 18 was set up the FBI to act as a honey trap for the Far Right. Collins mentions him, but only to say that he was small fry compared to William Pierce, the writer of the notorious Turner Diaries, and the US National Alliance. Covington was also unpalatable to many British Nazis because of his support for the IRA and connections to American Nazi IRA supporters, like Sean Maguire.

BNP Connections to Ulster Protestant Terror Groups

Far more acceptable to British Nazis was the UDA, and Collins describes how he and another BNP member, Eddie Whicker, answered the UDA’s request for British members to provide them with support. The BNP and its members were later revealed by World In Action attempting to supply them with guns. Collins himself appears to have been less than impressed with them. He states that their magazine, Ulster, was full of tradition and history, but had very little in the way of ideology. The UDA seemed actually not to know what it is they stood for, except that they didn’t want to be governed by Ireland or indeed anybody else. They were also poorly armed and equipped compared to the IRA. And while they were desperate for British Fascist support, they were less keen on their racism. One issue of Ulster contained an order for attacks on Chinese restaurateurs in the Six Counties to stop. This, however, seems to have been rejected in recent years, as there has apparently been a rise in racist attacks by Ulster Loyalists, disenchanted with the Good Friday agreement. In addition to attacking Leftists, Blacks, Asians and gays, the NF and BNP also laid into Irish Republicans and the ‘Troops Out’ movement when they organised their marches.

Hooligans and Political Use of violence

Taking part and supporting the Fascists in their violence were an assortment of football hooligans. These include various casuals, as well as hardened hooligan ‘firms’ like the Nutty Turn Out, and, of course, Millwall. The NF and BNP journey up and down the country in their campaigns, including the northern industrial towns where they attempt to intimidate the local Black and Asian populations. Much of the campaigning and violence takes place in the East End of London and Brick Lane, which has a long tradition of racist violence and resistance to racists since Mosley and his squadristi in the 1930s. Zadie Smith describes the racist violence in the area, and a fictional Asian group, the Bengal Tigers, set up to fight back against the Nazis, in her novel, Brick Lane. Collins also goes into the various motives the NF and BNP have for campaigning. He and many other Fascists had absolute contempt for parliament and democracy, and due to their repeated electoral failures many of them saw standing in elections as a waste of time. Their real focus was on expanding Nazi power through control of the streets. Nevertheless, standing in elections acted as a recruiting tool. They also regarded it as an instrument through which they could make race relations worse, and drum up even more hatred. This should be borne in mind the next time the BNP or any other Far Right group puts forward candidates at an election. They have no intention of making things better for society, only in creating further discord and violence. As for the Derek Beackon and the other NF members, who became the first elected BNP local councillors in Tower Hamlets, Collins states that when he met him was always drunk. He is also immensely proud of the way he and Searchlight managed to have all but two of the seven storm troopers lose their seats at the next elections.

Recruitment through Racial Tensions Created by ‘Satanic Verses’ Controversy

Collins also provides insight into the way the BNP and NF exploited racial tension created by Muslim outrage at Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. He states that for the Far Right, it was simply a case of attacking Asians as usual. However, it allowed them to gain support from Whites frightened by the rise in Muslim assertiveness and aggression.

Conservatives and the Fascist Right

Also linked to the NF and the BNP were extreme Right-wing Tories, such as Western Gaols. Collins describes attending the meeting at the Sudeley Room at House of Lords, where the meeting was addressed by the South African Conservative MP, Clive Derby-Lewis. Later on, as his disenchantment with Fascism increases, another Tory, Adrian Davies, invites him to join the Conservatives and acts as his alibi when he is forced to hide out in Spain for a week, following his exposure of the Sun journalist as a Nazi.

Background of Fascist Members and Supporters

Collins book is also important in that it provides an insight into the background and type of men drawn to the NF. Collins’ father was Irish, though Collins himself didn’t realise this for much of his childhood, and it didn’t matter much to him after he found out. Unsuited to married life, his father gradually became more and more distant from his family until the marriage broke down completely and he left. His family were poor working class, and Collins was a poor, underperforming pupil at school. A remark from his father that if he was Roman Catholic, there’d be no Blacks at his school, and thinking about his family poverty and deprivation led him to conclude, as undoubtedly so many angry poor Whites did, that it was caused by Black and Asians.

His family were also Tories, who read the Daily Mail, watched Jim Davidson, and he fully supported Thatcher’s attack on the miners and Norman Tebbit’s demand that the unemployed should get on their bikes. This anger and alienation led him first to argue with the Leftist teachers at his school, and to borrow books on modern Fascism from the school library. He then moved on to actively looking for literature and trying to join the NF. A copy of British Nationalist pushed through the front door allowed him to make contact with the Richard Edmonds, the BNP’s leader. A meeting with five members of the NF in the local pub impressed him with how normal they were, and their stories about Richard Edmonds led him to join the NF. In the event, he and a number of others ended up in both organisations, with Edmonds and Anderson each asking him to spy on the other’s party. Collins joined when he was very young – only 15 – in 1987, and spent six years in the organisation before being forced to flee the country to escape them when he was 21.

Growth of Fascism and New Labour’s Abandonment of Working Class

He states in the book that part of the rise in the Far Right was due to New Labour’s turn away from the working class. There is also jealousy and resentment at the way Black and Asian culture was celebrated and encouraged, while White working class culture was given no such assistance and enjoyed no similar amenities. These are important points. Owen Jones in the chapter ‘Backlash’ in Chavs argues that New Labour’s abandonment of the White working class for the middle class, and its celebration of Black and Asian culture, although entirely right, has also led many working class Whites to feel abandoned and resentful of the supposed privileges of non-Whites.

This is now extremely important, with the victory in the European elections of extreme Right-wing, populist parties like UKIP and the French Front National. UKIP is anti-immigrant, but has a policy of weeding out Fascists, although it does seem to have an incredible amount of them. Its members are, however, mainly older, working class people, who feel that the established parties, particularly New Labour, have abandoned them.

The book does provide a fascinating insight into what life in the Far Right is actually like for the average storm trooper, as well as giving Collins account of how he became so disgusted with them that he ended up not only working for Searchlight and then Special Branch, the latter not entirely willingly. There are problems, however. As a member of Searchlight, Collins is of course biased in their favour. While they have done a great deal of good in exposing the Far Right and its activities, other anti-Fascists have complained that Gable and Searchlight have smeared them and accused of being Fascists when they have pursued their own investigations independently. They have also accused it of appropriating their work, when this has subsequently been proven to be the more correct. See, for example, Matthew Kalman and John Murray’s article about the smears directed at them and Larry O’Hara, ‘Another Searchlight Smear Job’, in Lobster 30: 26-7. O’Hara has similarly attacked the World In Action documentary on the Far Right for its inaccuracies. Nevertheless, it’s still an important, gripping book for its personal account of the British Far Right during the late ’80s and early ’90s, its connections and the personal lives and motivations of its members.

Bernard Ingham, the Press Office under Thatcher and Mussolini and the Fascist Spin City

August 11, 2013

All regimes to a greater or lesser extent have attempted to manipulate public opinion to their own ends. A curiously modern example from the Middle Ages is the use of political ballads against Henry VI’s wife, by his opponent, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the father of the infamous Richard III. Richard had been England’s Lord Protector, governing the country. reacting to the king’s incompetence and weak-mindedness, Richard launched a political campaign against him. Political ballads attacked the queen as a ruthless, foreign princess, intent on conquering and oppressing her husband’s lands while misleading him as to her intentions. He and the king’s supporters also launched campaigns against each other in parliament, culminating in a general election, as well as fighting each other on the battlefield. Although a medieval conflict, the Wars of the Roses also appears strikingly modern, almost like the founding archetype of the coups that have been staged since. Richard III at one point even made speeches from the balcony, like great 20th century dictators like Mussolini.

Informal Influence over the Press in Democracies

During the 20th century much of the control of the press in the democracies was informal. Presidents and prime ministers arranged press conferences and dinners with sympathetic press barons. There were censorship rules, that could be invoked in times of national crisis, such as laws against the dissemination of enemy propaganda during First and Second World Wars. Some of the restrictions on what was printed in the press was simply through the personal relationship between the editor and the family of leading politicians. At the Cheltenham Festival of Literature one year, the British caricaturist Gerald Scarfe told the story of how one of his early cartoons was spiked by the editor of the Times. It was of Winston Churchill in his final period as an MP in parliament during his declining years when the powers that had inspired the country to keep on fighting during the War were fading. Scarfe said that at the time Churchill was senile, and the cartoon showed him at the end of the green benches, asleep and drooling. The Time’s editor rejected it on the grounds that it would upset the great man’s wife, Clemmie, when she opened it at breakfast in the morning.

Bernard Ingham and Thatcher’s Press Office

This relationship with the press changed slightly when Mrs. Thatcher established a press office under Bernard Ingham. Now Ingham strongly rejects the description of himself as a spin doctor. Nevertheless, as Maggie’s press officer he institutionalised the government’s manipulation of the news and public opinion in a way previous administrations had not. This in turn prepared the way for its expansion under Peter Mandelson during Blair’s government, and the consequent use of spin and propaganda by the governments following them.

Rigid Control of Press in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy

Totalitarian regimes are notorious for their absolute control of the press and media to garner mass support. In Hitler’s Germany, they were placed under the control of Josef Goebbels, the ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’. This prompted the satirical joke, said with one eye looking over the shoulder for the Gestapo, that the Goeb was the minimum amount of power required to turn off 100,000 radio sets. Despite the Nazis’ claim that they were enthusiastically supported by the great German public, you can gather from this what that public really thought of their leaders’ rantings.

Control of the press in Mussolini’s Italy was similarly strict. Under a law of 1924, an area’s prefect could warn any editor who ‘damaged the credit of the nation at home or abroad’, ‘aroused unjustified alarm in the public’, and published ‘false or tendentious news’. Editors were also at risk if they published material inciting class hatred or urged disobedience to the law. An editor that was warned twice could be dismissed from his post by the prefect. Another decree gave the prefects the right to sequestrate the issue of a particular paper that had broken the above rules. Originally this legislation was used only against the Socialist and Communist press and papers that had very small circulations. In 1925 it was expanded against the last remaining liberal newspapers. Mussolini tried to encourage the newspapers to adopt a friendly attitude towards to his regime. When this failed, official censorship increased, while the newspapers’ proprietors were threatened with forcible closure and the destruction of their equipment. Under Alfredo Rocco, the former leader of the Nationalists and Mussolini’s Minister for Justice, a corporative Order of Journalists was set up. This was under the control of the Commissione Superiore alla Stampa, composed of other journalists, rather than magistrates. Despite Rocco’s claim that the Commissione ‘realizes both the autonomy of the class and its link with the State’, he himself appointed its members and the Order as a whole was an instrument for controlling the journalists. No journalist, who was not on its rolls was allowed to practise his profession. Stalin used a similar organisation to control writers in the Soviet Union. This was the Writers’ Union, which had actually been founded to protect literature and the press from control by the old tyrant. From 1927 to 1928 there was a sustained campaign in Italy to purge the press of non-Fascist journalists and editors. By the end of the 1920s two-thirds of the newspapers outside the major cities were owned by the Fascist Party. At the same time, the magazines and newspapers published by the individual local Fascist groups, the federations or the Fasci, were reduced by Mussolini’s brother, Arnaldo, for greater economy and to make their control by the central Fascist organisations easier.

Censored Subjects in Fascist Press

In September 1928 the regime issued new guidelines detailing what newspapers were and weren’t allowed to print. All news was intended to be optimistic and present the regime in a positive light. Newspapers were ordered to give minimal coverage to rail disasters, bank failures and air crashes. Journalists were to treat natural disasters ‘with great sobriety’. Mussolini himself decreed that the crime column should be ‘demobilized’, especially stories of suicides, tragedies of passion, violence and child molestation. Editors were also banned from publishing photographs of nude or scantily clad women. I wonder how the Right-wing tabloids like the Sun, Star, Daily Mail and so on would cope under a Fascist dictatorship, considering that much of their content consists of photographs of nude or scantily clad women, and in the Sun, a hysterical campaign against paedophiles in which innocents were targeted and persecuted.

Informal Control of Press by Mussolini; Purchase of Newspapers by Industrialists for Fascist Regime

In other ways, however, the Fascists’ control and manipulation of the press was much more subtle. From 1922 to 1924 this was done informally. Il Duce’s Press Officer, Cesare Rossi, arranged deals in which private financiers sympathetic to the regime bought up opposition newspapers. The radical Milan newspaper, Il Secolo, was purchased for the regime by a group of industrialists headed by Borletti and Cesare Goldmann. Another newspaper, the Corriere Italiano, founded by the regime, was financed by consortium consisting of Fiat, Ilva, Terni, and the shipping magnate, Odero. This approach was discredited in the crisis following the regime’s assassination of the dissident philosopher, Matteotti, in exile Marseille. This revealed the sordid intrigue surrounding the Corriere Italiano and its companion Fascist paper, Nuovo Paese. In the unrest that followed, the headquarters of opposition newspapers were occupied by Fascist squads, and were only allowed to resume publication after submitting to the orders of the local Fascist ras.

In fact simple economic reasons meant that the party and the government could not afford to own and control all the Italian newspapers and magazines. The most important Italian papers thus remained in the hands of the private owners and industrialists, who held them long before the Fascist seizure of power. These proprietors continued to use them to influence the government’s economic policy and secure favours from the regime.

Pre-Fascist Staff Retained under Fascism

There was also some continuity with the pre-Fascist press, in that the regime permitted newspapers and magazines to retain their previous, non-Fascist staff, provided they did not produce material criticising the regime or its policies. Indeed, Mussolini appears to have intended to present some degree of political pluralism. He allowed the trade union newspaper, Il Lavoro, to resume publication in Genoa after it had been closed down. Il Lavoro was the paper of a group of CGL leaders that had capitulated to the regime, and continued to employ a number of well-known opponents of the regime. Mussolini appears to have kept it going in order to appeal, unsuccessfully, to the working class.

Press Office as Institution Common to Thatcher’s Britain and Fascist Italy

While the control of the press by the Italian Fascists was extreme, there is some comparison to the situation in today’s early 21st century Britain. Following Mrs. Thatcher and Bernard Ingham, subsequent British administrations have employed a Press Office like Mussolini and Cesare Rossi. Favourable coverage by the press has been seen as vitally important. From Blair onwards, the government has been sensitive to projecting a positive image through press barons such as Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre of the Mail. These industrialists have similarly been active, like the right-wing press baron Alfred Hugenberg in Weimar Germany, to build up massive media empires presenting their view of current events with an eye to influencing government policy. One former member of Blair’s cabinet said that Murdoch was a quiet presence at all the premier’s cabinet meetings, meaning that Blair was constantly concerned what Murdoch’s reaction to his policies would be.

Grant of Newspapers and Broadcasters by British Governments to their Supporters

Like Mussolini, Mrs Thatcher and subsequent prime ministers also have been active to ensure that particularly important newspapers were owned and acquired only by their supporters. Mrs. Thatcher made sure that the Times and other newspapers were bought by Rupert Murdoch, rather than the left-wing, and corrupt, Robert Maxwell. Blair and his cronies also waved through the acquisition and merger of various satellite firms by Murdoch despite concerns that this set up a dangerous monopoly, concerns that were also raised when Richard Desmond, the owner of the Express, purchased Channel 5. Mrs. Thatcher also acted to support the press barons in their destruction of the print unions, when the press finally moved out of Fleet Street after centuries of occupation.

‘Death on the Rock’ and Thatcher’s Closure of London Weekend Television

Equally significantly, Thatcher acted to close down a TV company that did not follow her line on the killing of a group of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. According to Private Eye, the Prime Minister was angered by the World in Action documentary, Death on the Rock. The IRA squad in question had travelled to Gibraltar in preparation for an attack on the British army there. The documentary presented evidence that the security services had had the squad under surveillance the whole time they were preparing for their attack. It stated that there had been numerous occasions where the terrorists could have been stopped and arrested without, or with minimal bloodshed. This was not done, and the entire squad was shot dead in what appeared to be an extra-judicial killing. In short, rather than straightforwardly protecting the servicemen and women stationed on the Rock, the SAS had acted as a Death Squad. Lady Olga Maitland said as much a few years later in her biography of Thatcher, when she declared that the purpose of the exercise was to send a sharp message to the IRA.

This is a strong and highly contentious claim. Now the IRA and the other terrorist groups in Ulster were responsible for acts of horrific violence against innocent civilians and members of the security services that left hundreds killed or mutilated, and showed little remorse or compassion for their victims. Most Brits supported the armed services in their campaign against them. There is, however, a line in such military campaigns that cannot be crossed by a democratic regime governed by human rights. This is what prevents nations with a proud democratic tradition, like Britain, from descending into arbitrary government and gun law like the South American Right-wing dictatorships. World in Action argued that this line had been crossed. World in Action was produced by London Weekend Television, which as a result lost its broadcasting license. This was granted instead to their competitors, Carlton, whom Thatcher obviously felt could be relied on to produce more positive coverage.

Conclusion: Increased Government Control of Media and Decreasing Political and Social Freedom in Post-Thatcher Britain

The result is that the freedom of the press in contemporary Britain is far more fragile than it appears. Mussolini was unsuccessful in gaining absolute control of the press, but was also concerned to present the semblance of pluralism. Press diversity in contemporary Britain is also coming under increasing pressure. Newspapers and magazines are increasingly owned by a very few proprietors, who see to it that their monopolies are protected and expanded by the governments of the day. In return, they support a Right-wing agenda that demands further privatisation, the suppression of working class political organisations and the curtailment of welfare benefits and the eventual dismantlement of the welfare state. Finally, broadcasters that present evidence of flagrant government violations of human rights will be penalised and closed down. Perhaps the difference is that in Mussolini’s Italy, it was a case of private industrialists aiding an extreme Right-wing state. In post-Thatcher Britain, it’s an extreme Right-wing state aiding its industrialists. The gap between freedom and tyranny is increasingly a fine one.

Sources

‘Press’, in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed., Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport Connecticut, Greenwood Press 1o9i82) 437-40.

Adrian Lyttelton, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929, 2nd Edition (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1987) 394-400.

Colin Richmond, ‘Propaganda in the Wars of the Rose’, History Today, July 1992, 42:12-18.

‘Toadying the Line’, reviews of Margaret Thatcher: The First Ten Years, Lady Olga Maitland (Sidgwick & Jackson); Margaret Thatcher: The Woman Within, Andrew Thomson (W.H. Allen), in Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 224-5.