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Issue #1709      November 4, 2015

Culture & Life

Prisons, propaganda and fascism

I was once told, in that authoritative, take-no-prisoners tone adopted by people who don’t know what they are talking about, that there were “50 million people in concentration camps in the USSR”. That absurd claim was, and still is, generally believed among people who are quick to assure you that, unlike a lot of other people, they have not been “taken in” by Communist propaganda.

Counter-revolution: Gorbachev with George Bush (Senior).

That they have most definitely been taken in by anti-Communist propaganda, however, is indisputable, however strenuously they deny it. The Cold War, of course, never ended, and its recent resurgence has been supported by a huge investment of imperialist funding and the application of a host of bright young graduates to the task of waging it.

Pumped up with patriotic fervour for the fight against “Godless Communism”, that terrible threat to “American freedom”, astonishing numbers of them are recruited straight from US colleges to enthusiastically work at using and enhancing every propaganda tool that imperialism has come up with in the almost 100 years since the October Revolution of 1917. That event sent shock-waves through capitalism everywhere: the writing wasn’t just on the wall – it was actually coming to life and being put into effect, for all the world to see.

It was imperative for capitalism that this alternative, non-capitalist system be denigrated, derided and condemned. Despite the success of the counter-revolution in Eastern Europe and the USSR at the end of the ’80s, support for the socialist alternative not only persists, but is sufficiently alive that in a number of countries around the world – a distressingly large number of countries from capitalism’s point of view – communists are at least part of the government and in some they are the governing Party. Not surprisingly, imperialism’s ideological war against socialism also persists, with more than a hint of desperation these days.

Some of the lines of this renewed propaganda attack are easily identified. The equating of socialism with fascism, the labelling of the eradication of the Nazi fifth column in the USSR in the late 1930s as Stalin purging his critics, the oft-repeated assertion that “socialism doesn’t work” accompanied by a suppression of its achievements, the claim that it is a “police state”. (I was travelling with a group from Serbia into Hungary, before the NATO coup that ousted the government of Slobodan Milsovic and the Socialist Party of Serbia. An anti-Communist “progressive” in our group even saw the act of inspecting our visas at the border as proof that the country was “a police state!”)

There were many reasons for the success of Gorbachev’s counter revolution in the Soviet Union, but one contributing factor was undoubtedly the fact that Soviet people had had no direct experience of capitalism for at least a couple of generations. They were easily convinced that accepting bourgeois democracy would deliver exactly what it promised: the retention of all the benefits they had under socialism plus loads of consumer goods and the freedom to travel at will. They did not want the overthrow of the Soviet Union or the end of socialism. But that’s what they got.

Today, after experiencing the “benefits” of capitalism – inflation, unemployment, high prices, deteriorating living standards and increasing NATO military threats right on their doorstep – it is not surprising that many are looking back nostalgically at what they lost.

Newsweek, the US “current affairs” journal published by The Washington Post, reported in dismay earlier this year: “On May 9, during Russia’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II, Stalin seemed to be everywhere: veterans carried portraits bearing his unmistakable image through Red Square, while state television screened documentaries hailing his achievements as supreme commander in chief of the Red Army. Among the souvenirs on sale in Moscow are Stalin T-shirts, cups and decorative dishes.

“It’s not only images of Stalin that are gaining popularity. The language of Stalinist terror has made a startling return to Russian political life.” Now what could the good folk at Newsweek mean by that? They are quick to tell us: “Putin has labelled Kremlin critics ‘national traitors’ and a ‘fifth column’ ”. The devil you say!

But Newsweek has more: “Then there are the increasingly frequent show trials. In late August, Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov was jailed for 20 years on terrorism charges that were widely seen [at least by Newsweek] as revenge for his involvement in protests against Russia’s seizure of Crimea.”

Hang on a minute. “Russia’s seizure of Crimea”? The people of Crimea voted – yes, voted – overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia after the US-backed fascist takeover of Ukraine. Apparently, self-determination by plebiscite is now “Stalinist terror!” The Russian “human rights” campaigners who are popular with the West like Sergei Parkhomenko actually say so. “Russia is heading once more towards totalitarian terror.”

That these “human rights campaigners” have a definite anti-Soviet and anti-Communist political agenda is shown by the fact that they never attack the colossal human rights abuse known as the US penal system. Far more people are languishing in that system than in Russia’s. A scandalously high percentage of young Black males and other poor Americans are jailed under a punitive system that sees them incarcerated in privately run prisons, forced effectively to work as slave labour for companies that complain if the number of people being sent to prison – their labour force – falls below what the prison operators regard as an acceptable level.

That was the system the Nazi concentration camps exemplified: slave labour for the profit of big corporations. No wonder US propaganda tries so hard to persuade people that Russia is a “totalitarian” state. Because you don’t have to look too long at the USA to see evidence of creeping and growing fascism.

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