Orwell: Some of his satirical writing looks like reality these days.
March 5, 2015 2:15 PM   Subscribe

John Pilger describes a 'Faustian Pact' that allows the suppression of a modern fascism in the West and its reliance on propaganda as news, and the beckoning of a war that rarely speaks its name. A follow on from War by media and the triumph of propaganda.
posted by adamvasco (22 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Some read his works as instruction manuals.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:20 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

This guy makes a lot of salient points, but he reminds me of many left-wing "overcorrectors" - he views the world through a certain lens; all subsequent people and events have to fit into his categories.

I'm too young to have historical context that I necessarily trust for a lot of the 20th century events he talks about, in Greece and whatnot, but regarding current events now:

I don't think the Ukrainians (Kiev government) are 100% innocent of everything, but I'm pretty sure they're not Nazis, even if there are some right-wing agitators in their midst. It doesn't hyperbolic to anybody these days to bring out the Nazi label prematurely? Pretty sure Poroshenko and the core government folks haven't really been employing either fascism or outright condoning the things he's talking about. He's casting Putin as a victim, and while I recognize that we have our own propaganda machines on this side of the ocean, Putin doesn't strike me as a preferable alternative to whatever's going on in Ukraine, keeping in mind how the previous government mismanaged things right into the ground too.

That having been said, it is a civil war situation over there and ugly things happen in civil wars. I just thing his view of global events today, as presented in this article, is too simplified to make me trust it. Which casts doubt on the rest of the article.

Perhaps somebody who has more connection to the events he's talking about - or the situation in Ukraine (Hello, Ukrainian MeFites! Any clarification possible?) can render an opinion?
posted by Strudel at 2:38 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

I was following just fine until he got to the Ukraine. The problem is, he's using the same technique he decries: making assertions without providing evidence. While I have no difficulty believing we're not getting the whole truth, he's making some pretty strong claims.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:19 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's hard to take seriously an essay on fascism of all things that starts off with a whole bunch of rhetorical fallacies:

Why are young journalists not taught to understand media agendas and to challenge the high claims and low purpose of fake objectivity? And why are they not taught that the essence of so much of what's called the mainstream media is not information, but power?

It's like the writer here thinks we're idiots.

Pilger's Wikipedia page is also pretty interesting.
posted by Nevin at 3:27 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Strudel, try googling 'Azov brigade'. They are openly Nazi and pro-Kiev.
posted by grounded at 3:29 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Azov brigade isn't the whole Poroshenko administration or even a plurality of Ukrainians. I've heard of them before.

They're militia volunteers. I'm pretty sure that Kiev is too desperate for manpower and people to fight for them to say, "Oh, hey, you oppose Russia but also like fascism? We've got enough people, thanks."

I'm not saying that it's a good idea to work with them anyway. Just that I understand why Kiev would do so. I can't really think of a country that close to Russia who wouldn't accept similar help under similar circumstances.

It's not like we (the US) hasn't worked with people of questionable political affiliation in the past, or will continue to do so...such as Saudi Arabia. Pretty similar that's the point the article is making a lot of, but I stop well short of "Ukrainians are fascists."
posted by Strudel at 3:54 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you want a glimpse into the situation in Ukraine, check out RuNet Echo [disclosure: I interact with them pretty regularly as part of another related project].

The RuNet Echo team basically monitors Russian and Ukrainian social media to gain insights about what is happening in the war (they report on other Russian topics).

They are the target, of course, of trolls who claim the RuNet Echo team are "tools of the CIA" and "the fascists." It's pretty intense.

They also do some work with Eliot Higgins (Brown Moses), and Higgins' Twitter feed is devoted mainly to fencing with Russian apologists.
posted by Nevin at 4:17 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Pilger's essays are so full of half-truths that I inevitably throw my hands up in the air. I usually get further than the third paragraph:
Had the Nazis not invaded Europe, Auschwitz and the Holocaust would not have happened.
Well, yes, technically Auschwitz could not have happened, because Auschwitz was built in Poland. And if the Nazi persecution of Jews and others were confined to Germany, it would have been qualitatively different from what we now call the Holocaust. But his essay is talking about fascism, not the form of its expression, and Hitler's official program of anti-Semitism was introduced as soon as he achieved power, in 1933.

Jews had already been stripped of their civil rights by the time Germany invaded Poland, in 1939, and its program of ghettoisation started immediately afterwards. That policy was never intended to be a permanent "solution to the Jewish problem", and in fact the first death camp (Chełmno) was built to destroy the population of the Łódź ghetto, which held many Jewish refugees from Germany.

So the Holocaust was a multi-staged program and its expression was probably dependant on events as they took place, but each step was a natural consequence of the one before: Jews were made stateless refugees; Jews were rounded up and confined; Jews were slaughtered. Pilger's implication that the Holocaust was a consequence of Germany's invasions is tendentious nonsense; in fact it would be more accurate to say that some of the invasions (e.g., Hungary in 1944) were a consequence of Germany's desire to kill as many Jews as possible.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:43 PM on March 5, 2015 [8 favorites]

The Illusion of choice (2012) 90% of what you read, watch, and listen to comes from a total of just six companies.
From the first Pilger : The first deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Andriy Parubiy, a leader of the governing party, is co-founder of Svoboda.
Who's who of Ukrainian cabinet as of today.
Ukraine’s Neo­Nazis Win Senior Government Posts, They Are the Anti­Russian.
And this extract made my blood run cold: -It was Nuland who masterminded the coup in Kiev. The wife of Robert D. Kagan, a leading "neo-con" luminary and co-founder of the extreme right wing Project for a New American Century, she was foreign policy advisor to Dick Cheney.
posted by adamvasco at 5:46 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, that's, um, interesting.
posted by ovvl at 5:56 PM on March 5, 2015

Seems a bit leaning to how Putin would view things...
posted by ovvl at 6:11 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Certainly if another head of the fascist hydra rears up from Ukraine then it's to Putin - that castigator of aggressive nationalism, that defender of a free press, that valiant champion of political pluralism and social freedom - we should turn to see it lopped off!
posted by sobarel at 6:16 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

These essays are basically straight-up Russian propaganda. There's not much I find more aggravating than "anti-imperialists" who are actually only opposed to certain imperialism, and who are in fact are eager cheerleaders for imperialism as long as it isn't the Western powers doing it, and Pilger is a prime example of the type. What Russia is doing in Ukraine is basically textbook imperialism, and the fact that there are far-right elements in the Ukrainian government (which do not control the government- it's like claiming that the Golden Dawn having seats in parliament means that the Greek government is fundamentally a fascist one) is nothing more than an excuse (akin to the old apologia for British imperialism in India that they stopped the practice of sati), and a particularly hypocritical one given the Russian government's own far-right connections. There's almost too much to pick out here, but- alongside the general praise of Putin and the claim that he made Russia a "sovereign nation" again- the passage that I think really gives away his true agenda is this one:

In the 19th century, the writer Alexander Herzen described secular liberalism as "the final religion, though its church is not of the other world but of this". Today, this divine right is far more violent and dangerous than anything the Muslim world throws up, though perhaps its greatest triumph is the illusion of free and open information.

This is an extremely telling passage. Note the hostility towards "secular liberalism", specifically. Hostility towards liberalism is not unusual from a far-left perspective, of course, but specifying "secular" as if that were the fundamental problem of liberalism- that is the kind of rhetoric I would expect to hear from the far-right. Pilger has moved so close to the Russian position, I am not sure he can even be called left-wing anymore. I get the feeling he has no problem of any kind with Putin's vision for Russia and the world, despite the fact that there is basically nothing to like about it from a leftist perspective at all.

Also, when it comes to "far more violent and dangerous than anything the Muslim world throws up"- the US is an imperialist power, and I would be the last one to deny that it has done many terrible things in the Middle East and the world- but ISIS is definitely, unquestionably worse than the US, to such an extent that the entire comparison strikes me as outrageous in the same way that saying the US was worse than Imperial Japan would. The modern US, whatever its other crimes, never officially legalized sexual slavery and launched genocidal campaigns against religious minorities, in which women and girls from those minority groups were kidnapped and sold as sex slaves, while the men were massacred and young children taken to be raised by the genocidaires. ISIS has done that (along with innumerable other atrocities), and will continue in this as long as they have the capability to do so. American imperialism is terrible, but there are worse things out there than it.

I mentioned the Russian government's funding of far-right parties earlier- I'm not quite sure how deep the ideological motivation for it actually goes, but there definitely is one. To get into all this in depth would be a long essay in itself, but I recommend reading up on third positionism, and on Alexander Dugin and his vision for the world (which, I believe, involves a global coalition of the far-left and far-right united against the liberal world order, with Russia as the pole star for the whole thing, culminating in a rebirth of Russian imperium), and to keep it firmly in mind whenever one sees anything from Russia Today (which has, incidentally, treated Nick Griffin as a respectable politician and, for some reason, an expert on Syria, in case there were any questions about how "anti-fascist" the Russian government is) or anything that's taking the Russian line in general. Third positionism, in general, is something I think there needs to be much more awareness of in left/progressive circles, because it is very good at using left-wing-sounding rhetoric- these essays, for example, seem at first glance like a standard left-wing criticism of American misdeeds, but Pilger tips his true hand more than once. Suffice it to say, for Putin and his defenders to claim that they are fighting fascism is outrageous hypocrisy- if there's a world champion of far-right politics in this day and age, it is the Putin administration.
posted by a louis wain cat at 6:22 PM on March 5, 2015 [14 favorites]

Pilger's views are pretty thoroughly contradicted by the US State Department, NY Times, Washington Post, Fox News, USA Today, VOA, etc., etc.

So they can't possibly be correct.
posted by fredludd at 9:36 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pilger has a point, and the US is singularly bad at interventions. We should certainly be skeptical of the next worse-than-Hitler that appears in the media.

But though critical of US propaganda, he seems completely credulous about Russian propaganda. (To say nothing of Gaddhafi's.) He actually believes that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan never happened? That the annexation of the Crimea was "legitimate"? That there are no Soviet troops in Ukraine, it's just a few bedeviled local "anti-fascists"?

It's amazing that there are no agents in his vision except for Americans. Ukrainians could not possibly have any reason not to trust Russia. If Putin invades, it will only be because he was "provoked" by Americans. Afghans apparently loved the PDPA regime... I wonder if Pilger has read the anti-interventionist Endless Enemies which tells a very different story.
posted by zompist at 10:26 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I stopped immediately dismissing John Pilger's work as simply contrarian a couple of decades ago. He's been right enough times over a long enough period of time to earn the benefit of my doubt at least.
posted by fullerine at 11:07 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some people do take a position ... earlier than others.

I'm sure Pilger sees what he is doing as taking a devil's advocate position against what I would call a very 'unexamined' style of reporting and commentary. Colbert coined it almost a decade ago. For twenty points ... What is Truthiness?

We have Truthy peace movements and Truthy NGOs, and Truthy media. We have Truthy narratives from Truthy journalists. In such an environment, most words and most images don't mean all that much.

All I know is that when Truthiness is involved, the truth is just a raw ingredient in the mixture of a news product. Pilger won't get any points for being non-partisan BUT at least his position will be recorded. Was Pilger a non-violent extremist?

If you ignore commentary and focus on trends, where are things really at. Propaganda is ubqiquitous, we are saturated in Ideology and Militarism is completely dominating. Everything that is incompatible with those things - is Losing.

if you don't like the "F" word call it "Authoritarianism". Perhaps "Radical Authoritarianism" is more apt.
posted by vicx at 12:55 AM on March 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

That there are no Soviet troops in Ukraine

(As I'm sure you know) The Soviet Union no longer exists, and whatever replaces it will have a different name, and a subtly different modus operandi.
posted by ambrosen at 1:01 AM on March 6, 2015


Russia's no longer even nominally Communist; why do left-wing critics of U.S. policy still suck up to them?

I'd be inclined to listen to this kind of thing but the fawning adulation for Putin pretty much kills its credibility.

Also maybe how the author bewails the West's constant invocation of the Second World War as an analogy for their own wars, while insisting that he's exposing the Fascists who are doing the same thing Hitler did with their propaganda.
posted by edheil at 7:26 AM on March 6, 2015

edheil, How would you make an argument against US government policy action? If you can seriously answer that, you'll be able to step up your game.

I'm NOT a critic of US policy. US policy is self-interest and that is a sound policy for every sovereign country. However I am a critic of US foreign interventions and foreign interventions by other countries too, because they NEVER do what is actually claimed. Foreign interventions are rarely in the interest of the people. Unsustainable is truly the right critique for interventionist policy.

BUT If I was a "journalist" and I wanted to "criticise" the interventions, I might "think" I have to tear down all the straw men surrounding the subject. This is a handy way to think, because tearing down straw men requires a lot of words and fills column space and you get paid, BUT edheil, I think you are right, that it is probably the wrong approach.

But lets flip this.

What if you want to support US humanitarian interventions? What is the correct approach for that?
posted by vicx at 7:49 PM on March 6, 2015

I was following just fine until he got to the Ukraine.

"Gaddafi's true crime was his intention to stop selling oil in US dollars" didn't tip you off that you were most likely reading the work of either a deranged conspiracy theorist or a paid propagandist? The account of Serbia? What about assigning the blame for an imperfect understanding of WWII history solely to Hollywood war movies? It does hit something of a maximal density of blatant lies when it comes to Ukraine, I suppose that hints at the motivation of the writer.

I too am sympathetic to the basic idea that America should quit the destructive habit of constant foreign military intervention, or at least cut back a little, but there's far too much simplistic nonsense in this bit of Pilger for it to deserve any consideration except as an example of the kind of journalism in which extreme partisan positions are presented as objective truth, supported only by fabrications and distortions that make any sense only if you've already bought into the ideology.
posted by sfenders at 5:32 AM on March 7, 2015

A postscript: European far-right groups back Putin at Russia forum.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:13 PM on March 22, 2015

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