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Issue #1699      August 26, 2015

Propaganda and rewriting history

There is propaganda that takes the form of a straight-forward lie that masks activity governments want hidden from their populations. Examples abound, but we can mention a few: the German Nazis’ claim that the Communists set fire to the Reichstag, or their claim that their invasion of Poland was in response to a Polish attack on German border guards.

Senator Bernie Sanders.
Senator Bernie Sanders.

The USA’s fabrication of the “Gulf of Tonkin incident” to provide an excuse for bombing North Vietnam is another, as was the British and US claim that the invasion of Iraq was not about oil but about “weapons of mass destruction” that were in fact non-existent.

There is another sort of propaganda, however. More general, it is what Hitler called “the big lie”, lying propaganda on such a scale that even if people disbelieve a large part of it, what remains is still very damaging. This kind of propaganda becomes assimilated into popular culture, repeated so much it becomes accepted as “historical fact”.

Western capitalist governments, with their cosy relationship with a supportive mass media, have raised this form of propaganda to an art form, incessantly drumming in their message until the people have no option but to believe it.

I watched an episode of British cop show New Tricks the other night, which took place in the Bosnian ex-pat community in London. Motivation was provided by detailed, gory descriptions of “Serbian war crimes” in Bosnia, including massacres of whole villages. Not a word was said about the activities of the Croatian fascists or Muslim extremists that targeted Serbian Orthodox churches and civilians.

For the purpose of the plot, that would merely have confused viewers, the “evil Serbians” line was left unchallenged.

Similarly, in a recent episode of the clever British sitcom Outnumbered, the young daughter of the family was indulging in a flight of fancy about how criminals should be punished, involving some particularly sadistic forms of imprisonment. Her mother’s response was a bland “I think Stalin already thought of that, dear”.

The gratuitous inclusion of Stalin’s name is significant. Stalin has become such a popular whipping boy for the propagandists of capitalism, especially since the launching of the Cold War in 1946 – ramped up exponentially since the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1989 – that he can now apparently be credited with any kind of crime without fear of contradiction. “Stalin’s crimes” have become part of folk wisdom.

It is actually a triumph of Western propaganda, which facts simply do not support. Facts, of course, are frequently at odds with propaganda. Watching the Warner Brothers’ classic Casablanca again the other day, I was struck by some dialogue involving Claude Rains’ character.

Playing a Vichy French police officer (“I am merely a poor, corrupt official”) Rains takes issue with another character who dismisses “blundering Americans”, telling him not underestimate them: “I was with them when they ‘blundered’ into Berlin in 1918”. It’s a cute line, but it is also bogus: American troops went nowhere near Berlin in 1918. The closest they got was on the Western front in northern France.

Also conveniently buried, and consequently forgotten by much of the public, is the sorry record of the children of Queen Victoria. Antiques Roadshow regularly weeps copious tears over the “tragedy” of the Russian royals. I watch that show frequently, but I have never seen them once express concern at the plight of the Tsar’s oppressed subjects. The misery that was the lot of the Russian people while they carried the burden of a huge aristocracy living on the best the country could produce was once well known, but today it too is being carefully replaced with sentimental concern for the Tsar’s family – the Russian people can go hang.

I mention these television programs only because they are mostly not overt propaganda outlets. However, so all-pervasive is the propaganda onslaught today, that they cannot escape becoming part of it.

Capitalism is rewriting history – in little things as well as big – to serve its own class interests. Its control of the mass media enables it to mould public opinion and to determine what information people will receive. It is why magnates like Rupert Murdoch are so keen to find a way to dominate the Internet, for that would allow them to close off the most important remaining avenue that at present allows at least some alternative information to be accessed.

Information for example about the groundswell of support for progressive, anti-millionaire candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders hoping to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for US President out from under Hillary Clinton. You wouldn’t know it from watching our TV news, of course, but Sanders’ campaign has been drawing huge crowds. And as Hillary’s polls go down, Sanders’ polls are going up.

Our Murdoch-dominated media – even the ABC takes its lead from the Murdoch media as to what news is the most important and in particular what line to take on it – gives the impression that Hillary is the only potential Democrat candidate and billionaire Donald Trump the likely Republican candidate. What the American people think of this “choice” is not considered newsworthy.

Speaking at the Iowa State Fair, Sanders said, “I welcome and urge all of you to join me in helping to make a political revolution, which transforms America, which creates a government that works for all of us, and not just a handful.”

The Sanders campaign has garnered attention for massive turnouts at events. Popular discontent with the two big business-oriented “mainstream” parties is driving this. Sanders’ campaign, however, has to do without the support of the capitalist mass media, whose much-vaunted boasting of a “free press” does not extend to helping a genuine independent voice. Politico reporter Ben Schreckinger writes of this “Summer of Sanders”, that his campaign “has raced to channel the enthusiasm of a largely self-organising movement into massive, attention-grabbing rallies.” For the turnouts – which surpass even those of Barack Obama’s in 2007 – Schreckinger writes that it’s “left to Sanders’ largely self-organised grassroots support to deliver the crowds.”

Next article – Fortress Britain

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