The other night, I saw George Orwells's '1984' performed on the
London stage. Although crying out for a contemporary interpretation,
Orwell's warning about the future was presented as a period piece:
remote, unthreatening, almost reassuring. It was as if Edward Snowden
had revealed nothing, Big Brother was not now a digital eavesdropper and
Orwell himself had never said, "To be corrupted by totalitarianism, one
does not have to live in a totalitarian country."
by critics, the skilful production was a measure of our cultural and
political times. When the lights came up, people were already on their
way out. They seemed unmoved, or perhaps other distractions beckoned.
"What a mindfuck," said the young woman, lighting up her phone.
advanced societies are de-politicised, the changes are both subtle and
spectacular. In everyday discourse, political language is turned on its
head, as Orwell prophesised in '1984'. "Democracy" is now a rhetorical
device. Peace is "perpetual war". "Global" is imperial. The once hopeful
concept of "reform" now means regression, even destruction. "Austerity"
is the imposition of extreme capitalism on the poor and the gift of
socialism for the rich: an ingenious system under which the majority
service the debts of the few.
In the arts, hostility to
political truth-telling is an article of bourgeois faith. "Picasso's red
period," says an Observer headline, "and why politics don't make good
art." Consider this in a newspaper that promoted the bloodbath in Iraq
as a liberal crusade. Picasso's lifelong opposition to fascism is a
footnote, just as Orwell's radicalism has faded from the prize that
appropriated his name.
A few years ago, Terry Eagleton, then
professor of English literature at Manchester University, reckoned that
"for the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet,
playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the
western way of life". No Shelley speaks for the poor, no Blake for
utopian dreams, no Byron damns the corruption of the ruling class, no
Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin reveal the moral disaster of capitalism.
William Morris, Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw have no
equivalents today. Harold Pinter was the last to raise his voice. Among
the insistent voices of consumer-feminism, none echoes Virginia Woolf,
who described "the arts of dominating other people... of ruling, of
killing, of acquiring land and capital".
At the National
Theatre, a new play, 'Great Britain', satirises the phone hacking
scandal that has seen journalists tried and convicted, including a
former editor of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. Described as a
"farce with fangs [that] puts the whole incestuous [media] culture in
the dock and subjects it to merciless ridicule", the play's targets are
the "blessedly funny" characters in Britain's tabloid press. That is
well and good, and so familiar. What of the non-tabloid media that
regards itself as reputable and credible, yet serves a parallel role as
an arm of state and corporate power, as in the promotion of illegal war?
Leveson inquiry into phone hacking glimpsed this unmentionable. Tony
Blair was giving evidence, complaining to His Lordship about the
tabloids' harassment of his wife, when he was interrupted by a voice
from the public gallery. David Lawley-Wakelin, a film-maker, demanded
Blair's arrest and prosecution for war crimes. There was a long pause:
the shock of truth. Lord Leveson leapt to his feet and ordered the
truth-teller thrown out and apologised to the war criminal.
Lawley-Wakelin was prosecuted; Blair went free.
enduring accomplices are more respectable than the phone hackers. When
the BBC arts presenter, Kirsty Wark, interviewed him on the tenth
anniversary of his invasion of Iraq, she gifted him a moment he could
only dream of; she allowed him to agonise over his "difficult" decision
on Iraq rather than call him to account for his epic crime. This evoked
the procession of BBC journalists who in 2003 declared that Blair could
feel "vindicated", and the subsequent, "seminal" BBC series, 'The Blair
Years', for which David Aaronovitch was chosen as the writer, presenter
and interviewer. A Murdoch retainer who campaigned for military attacks
on Iraq, Libya and Syria, Aaronovitch fawned expertly.
the invasion of Iraq - the exemplar of an act of unprovoked aggression
the Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson called "the supreme
international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it
contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole" - Blair and
his mouthpiece and principal accomplice, Alastair Campbell, have been
afforded generous space in the Guardian to rehabilitate their
reputations. Described as a Labour Party "star", Campbell has sought the
sympathy of readers for his depression and displayed his interests,
though not his current assignment as advisor, with Blair, to the
Egyptian military tyranny.
As Iraq is dismembered as a
consequence of the Blair/Bush invasion, a Guardian headline declares:
"Toppling Saddam was right, but we pulled out too soon". This ran across
a prominent article on 13 June by a former Blair functionary, John
McTernan, who also served Iraq's CIA installed dictator Iyad Allawi. In
calling for a repeat invasion of a country his former master helped
destroy, he made no reference to the deaths of at least 700,000 people,
the flight of four million refugees and sectarian turmoil in a nation
once proud of its communal tolerance.
corruption and war," wrote the radical Guardian columnist Seumas Milne
in a spirited piece on 3 July. This is known in the trade as "balance".
The following day, the paper published a full-page advertisement for an
American Stealth bomber. On a menacing image of the bomber were the
words: "The F-35. GREAT For Britain". This other embodiment of
"corruption and war" will cost British taxpayers £1.3 billion, its
F-model predecessors having slaughtered people across the developing
In a village in Afghanistan, inhabited by the poorest
of the poor, I filmed Orifa, kneeling at the graves of her husband, Gul
Ahmed, a carpet weaver, seven other members of her family, including six
children, and two children who were killed in the adjacent house. A
"precision" 500-pound bomb fell directly on their small mud, stone and
straw house, leaving a crater 50 feet wide. Lockheed Martin, the plane's
manufacturer's, had pride of place in the Guardian's advertisement.
former US secretary of state and aspiring president of the United
States, Hillary Clinton, was recently on the BBC's 'Women's Hour', the
quintessence of media respectability. The presenter, Jenni Murray,
presented Clinton as a beacon of female achievement. She did not remind
her listeners about Clinton's profanity that Afghanistan was invaded to
"liberate" women like Orifa. She asked Clinton nothing about her
administration's terror campaign using drones to kill women, men and
children. There was no mention of Clinton's idle threat, while
campaigning to be the first female president, to "eliminate" Iran, and
nothing about her support for illegal mass surveillance and the pursuit
Murray did ask one finger-to-the-lips
question. Had Clinton forgiven Monica Lewinsky for having an affair with
husband? "Forgiveness is a choice," said Clinton, "for me, it was
absolutely the right choice." This recalled the 1990s and the years
consumed by the Lewinsky "scandal". President Bill Clinton was then
invading Haiti, and bombing the Balkans, Africa and Iraq. He was also
destroying the lives of Iraqi children; Unicef reported the deaths of
half a million Iraqi infants under the age of five as a result of an
embargo led by the US and Britain.
The children were media
unpeople, just as Hillary Clinton's victims in the invasions she
supported and promoted - Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia - are media
unpeople. Murray made no reference to them. A photograph of her and her
distinguished guest, beaming, appears on the BBC website.
politics as in journalism and the arts, it seems that dissent once
tolerated in the "mainstream" has regressed to a dissidence: a
metaphoric underground. When I began a career in Britain's Fleet Street
in the 1960s, it was acceptable to critique western power as a rapacious
force. Read James Cameron's celebrated reports of the explosion of the
Hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll, the barbaric war in Korea and the
American bombing of North Vietnam. Today's grand illusion is of an
information age when, in truth, we live in a media age in which
incessant corporate propaganda is insidious, contagious, effective and
In his 1859 essay 'On Liberty', to which modern
liberals pay homage, John Stuart Mill wrote: "Despotism is a legitimate
mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their
improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end."
The "barbarians" were large sections of humanity of whom "implicit
obedience" was required. "It's a nice and convenient myth that liberals
are peacemakers and conservatives the warmongers," wrote the historian
Hywel Williams in 2001, "but the imperialism of the liberal way may be
more dangerous because of its open-ended nature: its conviction that it
represents a superior form of life." He had in mind a speech by Blair in
which the then prime minister promised to "reorder the world around us"
according to his "moral values".
Richard Falk, the respected
authority on international law and the UN Special Rapporteur on
Palestine, once described a "a self-righteous, one-way, legal/moral
screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed
as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political
violence". It is "so widely accepted as to be virtually
Tenure and patronage reward the guardians.
On BBC Radio 4, Razia Iqbal interviewed Toni Morrison, the
African-American Nobel Laureate. Morrison wondered why people were "so
angry" with Barack Obama, who was "cool" and wished to build a "strong
economy and health care". Morrison was proud to have talked on the phone
with her hero, who had read one of her books and invited her to his
Neither she nor her interviewer mentioned
Obama's seven wars, including his terror campaign by drone, in which
whole families, their rescuers and mourners have been murdered. What
seemed to matter was that a "finely spoken" man of colour had risen to
the commanding heights of power. In 'The Wretched of the Earth', Frantz
Fanon wrote that the "historic mission" of the colonised was to serve as
a "transmission line" to those who ruled and oppressed. In the modern
era, the employment of ethnic difference in western power and propaganda
systems is now seen as essential. Obama epitomises this, though the
cabinet of George W. Bush - his warmongering clique - was the most
multiracial in presidential history.
As the Iraqi city of
Mosul fell to the jihadists of ISIS, Obama said, "The American people
made huge investments and sacrifices in order to give Iraqis the
opportunity to chart a better destiny." How "cool" is that lie? How
"finely spoken" was Obama's speech at the West Point military academy on
28 May. Delivering his "state of the world" address at the graduation
ceremony of those who "will take American leadership" across the world,
Obama said, "The United States will use military force, unilaterally if
necessary, when our core interests demand it. International opinion
matters, but America will never ask permission..."
repudiating international law and the rights of independent nations, the
American president claims a divinity based on the might of his
"indispensable nation". It is a familiar message of imperial impunity,
though always bracing to hear. Evoking the rise of fascism in the 1930s,
Obama said, "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of
my being." Historian Norman Pollack wrote: "For goose-steppers,
substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total
culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué,
blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the
In February, the US mounted one of its "colour" coups
against the elected government in Ukraine, exploiting genuine protests
against corruption in Kiev. Obama's assistant secretary of state,
Victoria Nuland, personally selected the leader of an "interim
government". She nicknamed him "Yats". Vice President Joe Biden came to
Kiev, as did CIA Director John Brennan. The shock troops of their putsch
were Ukrainian fascists.
For the first time since 1945, a
neo-Nazi, openly anti-Semitic party controls key areas of state power in
a European capital. No Western European leader has condemned this
revival of fascism in the borderland through which Hitler's invading
Nazis took millions of Russian lives. They were supported by the
Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), responsible for the massacre of Jews and
Russians they called "vermin". The UPA is the historical inspiration of
the present-day Svoboda Party and its fellow-travelling Right Sector.
Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok has called for a purge of the
"Moscow-Jewish mafia" and "other scum", including gays, feminists and
those on the political left.
Since the collapse of the Soviet
Union, the United States has ringed Russia with military bases, nuclear
warplanes and missiles as part of its Nato Enlargement Project. Reneging
on a promise made to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 that
Nato would not expand "one inch to the east", Nato has, in effect,
militarily occupied eastern Europe. In the former Soviet Caucasus,
Nato's expansion is the biggest military build-up since the Second World
A Nato Membership Action Plan is Washington's gift to
the coup-regime in Kiev. In August, "Operation Rapid Trident" will put
American and British troops on Ukraine's Russian border and "Sea Breeze"
will send US warships within sight of Russian ports. Imagine the
response if these acts of provocation, or intimidation, were carried out
on America's borders.
In reclaiming Crimea - which Nikita
Kruschev illegally detached from Russia in 1954 - the Russians defended
themselves as they have done for almost a century. More than 90 per cent
of the population of Crimea voted to return the territory to Russia.
Crimea is the home of the Black Sea Fleet and its loss would mean life
or death for the Russian Navy and a prize for Nato. Confounding the war
parties in Washington and Kiev, Vladimir Putin withdrew troops from the
Ukrainian border and urged ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine to abandon
In Orwellian fashion, this has been inverted in
the west to the "Russian threat". Hillary Clinton likened Putin to
Hitler. Without irony, right-wing German commentators said as much. In
the media, the Ukrainian neo-Nazis are sanitised as "nationalists" or
"ultra nationalists". What they fear is that Putin is skilfully seeking a
diplomatic solution, and may succeed. On 27 June, responding to Putin's
latest accommodation - his request to the Russian Parliament to rescind
legislation that gave him the power to intervene on behalf of Ukraine's
ethnic Russians - Secretary of State John Kerry issued another of his
ultimatums. Russia must "act within the next few hours, literally" to
end the revolt in eastern Ukraine. Notwithstanding that Kerry is widely
recognised as a buffoon, the serious purpose of these "warnings" is to
confer pariah status on Russia and suppress news of the Kiev regime's
war on its own people.
A third of the population of Ukraine
are Russian-speaking and bilingual. They have long sought a democratic
federation that reflects Ukraine's ethnic diversity and is both
autonomous and independent of Moscow. Most are neither "separatists" nor
"rebels" but citizens who want to live securely in their homeland.
Separatism is a reaction to the Kiev junta's attacks on them, causing as
many as 110,000 (UN estimate) to flee across the border into Russia.
Typically, they are traumatised women and children.
Iraq's embargoed infants, and Afghanistan's "liberated" women and girls,
terrorised by the CIA's warlords, these ethnic people of Ukraine are
media unpeople in the west, their suffering and the atrocities committed
against them minimised, or suppressed. No sense of the scale of the
regime's assault is reported in the mainstream western media. This is
not unprecedented. Reading again Phillip Knightley's masterly 'The First
Casualty: the war correspondent as hero, propagandist and mythmaker', I
renewed my admiration for the Manchester Guardian's Morgan Philips
Price, the only western reporter to remain in Russia during the 1917
revolution and report the truth of a disastrous invasion by the western
allies. Fair-minded and courageous, Philips Price alone disturbed what
Knightley calls an anti-Russian "dark silence" in the west.
2 May, in Odessa, 41 ethnic Russians were burned alive in the trade
union headquarters with police standing by. There is horrifying video
evidence. The Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh hailed the massacre as
"another bright day in our national history". In the American and
British media, this was reported as a "murky tragedy" resulting from
"clashes" between "nationalists" (neo-Nazis) and "separatists" (people
collecting signatures for a referendum on a federal Ukraine). The New
York Times buried it, having dismissed as Russian propaganda warnings
about the fascist and anti-Semitic policies of Washington's new clients.
The Wall Street Journal damned the victims - "Deadly Ukraine Fire
Likely Sparked by Rebels, Government Says". Obama congratulated the
junta for its "restraint".
On 28 June, the Guardian devoted
most of a page to declarations by the Kiev regime's "president", the
oligarch Petro Poroshenko. Again, Orwell's rule of inversion applied.
There was no putsch; no war against Ukraine's minority; the Russians
were to blame for everything. "We want to modernise my country," said
Poroshenko. "We want to introduce freedom, democracy and European
values. Somebody doesn't like that. Somebody doesn't like us for that."
to his report, the Guardian's reporter, Luke Harding, did not challenge
these assertions, or mention the Odessa atrocity, the regime's air and
artillery attacks on residential areas, the killing and kidnapping of
journalists, the firebombing of an opposition newspaper and his threat
to "free Ukraine from dirt and parasites". The enemy are "rebels",
"militants", "insurgents", "terrorists" and stooges of the Kremlin. The
current campaign to blame the Russian government for the downing of the
Malaysian airliner is part of this propaganda. In truth, the crime of
the airliner's shooting down is a direct result of Obama's putsch in
Ukraine. Summon from history the ghosts of Vietnam, Chile, East Timor,
southern Africa, Iraq; note the same propagated tags, the same false
flags. Palestine is the lodestone of this unchanging deceit. Following
the latest Israeli, American equipped slaughter in Gaza of more than 800
Palestinians - including 120 children - an Israeli general writes in
the Guardian under the headline, "A necessary show of force".
the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her films that
glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques,
she produced a documentary form that mesmerised Germans; it was her
'Triumph of the Will' that reputedly cast Hitler's spell. I asked her
about propaganda in societies that imagined themselves superior. She
replied that the "messages" in her films were dependent not on "orders
from above" but on a "submissive void" in the German population. "Did
that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?" I asked. "Everyone,"
she replied, "and of course the intelligentsia."