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Issue #1606      August 14, 2013

Culture & Life

Propaganda and class interests

Anti-Communist propaganda these days is very sophisticated, the product of highly intelligent college graduates who are selectively recruited by agencies like the CIA even before they graduate. They are given a stirring patriotic spiel about serving freedom and stopping Red dictatorship, defending democracy and free speech – and these days human rights – and then turned loose to wage a war of lies against the USA’s enemies.

It used to be cruder, and was often spouted by the oddest people. In the days before television, the most effective outlets for anti-working class propaganda in the US were the popular magazines and the mass circulation newspapers of reactionary press barons like Hearst and McCormick.

Always supportive of the wishes and preferences of their advertisers, the great US magazines functioned as policy instruments – or certainly mouthpieces – of big business lobby groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers. In the years before WW2, the link between big business and the global drive towards fascism became very evident in the pages of these same popular weekly magazines.

They worked hand in glove with known Nazis, pro-fascist writers and undercover German agents. The well-known US anti-fascist journalist George Seldes has said of this period: “The Nazis never missed an opportunity to use undemocratic and pro-fascist publications for their propaganda machine. They filled the airwaves with extracts from Hearst’s Cosmopolitan, Lawrence Spivak and Eugene Lyons’ American Mercury, the Reader’s Digest, and the Saturday Evening Post.”

The Reader’s Digest ran rabidly anti-Soviet articles right through the Second World War. Even when the USA’s ally was fighting a colossal life-and-death struggle with Hitler’s forces in the suburbs of Stalingrad, the Reader’s Digest did not pause in its anti-Soviet propaganda. As for the Saturday Evening Post, in his book 1,000 Americans, George Seldes wrote: “The Saturday Evening Post’s service to reaction began just after the First World War, when Kenneth Roberts, Isaac L Marcosson, and several other nationally known writers were hired to sing the praises of reactionary dictators, the greatest swindlers of the era, and tycoons such as Sir Henry Deterding [head of Royal Dutch Shell], who financed a war in Baku to save his oil, and told the Saturday Evening Post that he favoured the murder of all workers who refused to work – on his terms.“

In 1940, while the US was still technically neutral, Gestapo agents visited Saturday Evening Post correspondent Demaree Bess at a Paris Hotel and offered to help him to go wherever he wanted to in occupied Europe, to see whatever he wanted to see, and to write whatever he wanted to write. This was unique: Seldes quotes Richard Boyer writing in PM: “American correspondents were not permitted to see anything for themselves, they were watched, ‘supervised’, treated like prisoners.” But not Bess.

And the articles he wrote would not have disappointed his new friends. In January of 1941, he wrote what Seldes calls “a tremendous whitewash of the German occupation of Norway, and of Quisling”. Quisling was the Norwegian traitor who welcomed the Nazis to his country and became their puppet “ruler” of Norway. He gave his name to all such traitors in WW2.

The next month Bess wrote a piece purporting to lament the fate of Holland, but in reality, as Seldes says, “it is written to try to show that it does not pay a nation to resist Hitler, because it will suffer terrible consequences if it does not surrender. Pro-Nazis are quoted with great effect, especially bankers, who want a Dutch-Nazi alliance”.

Other gems of anti-Communist, anti-worker propaganda that appeared in the hey-day of the popular weeklies include this piece from the once-popular (though not in progressive circles) magazine Liberty: “Bolshevism is knocking at our gates. We can’t afford to let it in. We have got to organise ourselves against it, and put our shoulders together and hold fast. We must keep America whole and safe and unspoiled. We must keep the worker away from red literature and red ruses; we must see that his mind remains healthy.”

And who was it who said that? That quintessential US businessman Al Capone! And why not? Organised crime is a logical concomitant of capitalist business methods. Look at the corruption among Australian trade union leaders. Look at the way so many politicians elected to represent the workers have been seduced by big money to abandon their principles and opportunistically pursue their own personal interests once in office.

Meanwhile, anti-working class propaganda continues unabated, in mass-circulation newspapers and magazines and of course now – especially now – on television. With the added feature that TV news or propaganda pieces appear to be actuality footage, so they must be true because they are “real”. But with only a few competing news channels, and all of them sourcing their “news” from the same agencies, there is less space for alternative or truthful news than there ever was before.

The old-time media barons Hearst and McCormick would never credit the kind of monopoly of information that modern media magnate Murdoch enjoys today. And if they could get away with murder in the days when there were numerous papers and magazines where stories could be compared, consider what the few who remain can get away with today, when there are virtually no checks and balances against their abuse of the information system for their own class interests.   

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