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ONE of the most bizarre phenomena of the Brezhnev period in the Soviet Union was the practice of Communist Party political commentators quoting selectively from banned literature to explain why it merited banning.
The expectation was that citizens would, having swallowed the selective quotes and lengthy denunciations, defend the party decision to deny them the right to read, say, Alexander Solzhenitzyn’s works.
In reality, the fact that his offerings did the rounds on duplicated sheets confirmed their underground nature, adding a subversive cachet.
It was only after the Soviet Union collapsed that Solzhenitzyn’s works attracted open critical appraisal, showing that, whatever his talents as a writer, his reactionary outlook was rooted in a pre-revolutionary past where the peasantry knew their place, paying obeisance to the tsarist autocracy, the Russian Orthodox Church and an official dogma of anti-semitism.
Britain’s ruling class is far too experienced and wily to fall into the trap of banning material critical of capitalism and the hereditary monarchy — at least domestically. Its record in the colonies was both unrelenting and bloody.
In Britain, our rulers rely largely on market forces today, reckoning quite accurately that organisations, such as the Morning Star, seeking to replace capitalism with socialism will not have the tens of millions of pounds at their disposal that the corporate media has, propped up as it is by mass advertising by big business.
There is also an unwritten understanding that the Morning Star should be treated differently from the rest of the print media.
So it is excluded from newspaper review programmes on all BBC, ITV and Sky channels and, as far as the BBC is concerned, this reflects a directive sent to news and current affairs programmes that they should not take daily copies of the Morning Star.
The late great Tony Benn used to make a tiny dent in this wall of ignorance by taking a couple of copies of his favourite daily paper when invited to review the papers for Sky News.
He would inform presenters: “I know you don’t take the Morning Star, so I’ve brought my own,” before launching into an explanation of why its coverage of a key issue of the day was more relevant than the others.
It’s probably fair to recognise that the ever genial and polite Benn was more able to get away with this guerilla behaviour than others might have been.
Public opinion polls share mass media obliviousness to Morning Star existence, where requests for daily paper preference provide no space to designate it as a regular news source. At best, there’s a box for “Other.”
The BBC Daily Politics show bucked the trend slightly by inviting editor Ben Chacko on occasion to comment on the news, but the programme’s agenda never took its lead from items in the paper, even when the Morning Star carried an exclusive or took a manifestly different approach from the rest of the media.
It is important, however, to recognise a different approach taking shape in the period since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader nearly three years ago.
Corbyn’s unashamed advocacy of the Morning Star as “our best and only friend in the media” has opened another front for his enemies in Parliament and the media along which to attack him.
Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock, who provides almost daily evidence of being unsure which benches he belongs on, intervened during a recent speech by the leader to tell the House that he had been sitting there reading a years-old Morning Star article by Corbyn that, in his estimation, contradicted what he was saying.
In reality, it didn’t, but that wasn’t important. Nor is it likely that he regularly consults the Morning Star. He was probably given a steer by someone else.
The key issue was that he had linked his party leader and the Morning Star in a negative comment in a way that gave comfort to the Tories.
The Guido Fawkes Tory blog also got in on the act, picking up on one of last week’s leader columns that pointed out contradictions in the film coverage supplied by the pro-jihadist White Helmets group to Western media houses and accepted uncritically by them.
“The sickos who write Corbyn’s favourite paper have plumbed new depths by suggesting the Douma chemical attack was a set-up,” Guido raged.
“This is the paper Corbyn chooses to have delivered to his office. Does he agree?” it demanded to know.
Woodcock is not the only anti-Corbyn MP to suddenly feel the need to bracket the party leader and the Morning Star as worthy of denunciation.
Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan penned a piece for the “centre-left” — really? — Progress site, which was highlighted on the influential LabourList, in which she reported speaking in the House debate on anti-semitism and rejecting the idea “that the issue of anti-semitism in the Labour Party is all about shutting down criticism of the actions of the Israeli government.”
Yet, among the forms of anti-semitism she spotlights is “equating zionism with racism,” which is illogical.
When Jews living in any country in the world can settle with full Israeli state rights in the occupied West Bank, living in Jews-only settlements, driving along Jews-only roads and taking the land of people who have lived there for centuries, what is that but racism?
Ryan goes on to say: “We are the party which spoke out against the attempt to stigmatise and discriminate against Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century, fought the Blackshirts and their fellow travellers in the Conservative Party in the 1930s and raised our voices against the persecution of Jews behind the Iron Curtain during the cold war.
“Support for zionism is part of the Labour tradition, too.
“It is why, even before the publication of the Balfour declaration, our party supported the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
“It is why our party opposed Tory attempts to renege on Britain’s commitments in the 1930s.
“And it is why the Labour governments of Harold Wilson, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown never wavered in their conviction that Israel should have the right to defend itself against those who wished to destroy it.
“This history may be inconvenient for those on the hard left who were reared on a diet of Stalinist anti-semitism and hatred of Israel fed to them by the Morning Star.”
It’s worth reprinting this segment in full to get an idea of Ryan’s determination to rewrite history.
Many Labour members did indeed fight the Blackshirts and their fellow travellers, but the official party line on meeting uniformed British Union of Fascists thugs was to “shout ‘Mickey Mouse’ and run away.”
Really effective opposition to the BUF, including at the Battle of Cable Street, was co-ordinated by the east London Communist Party, containing hundreds of Jews, which fought alongside other forces against anti-semitism then as it does now.
To attempt to smear the Labour left, and by implication Corbyn, by referring to a hard left reared on anti-semitism and “hatred of Israel” — in reality, a position of criticism of Israel’s racist polices and support for a two-state solution — is beneath contempt.
Just as Communists in the Soviet Union had belatedly to recognise that it was impossible to avoid criticism or alternative ideas by banning them, those in Britain seeking to bury or distort the Morning Star’s message of liberation, shared largely by Corbyn and many socialists in the Labour Party, will be unsuccessful.
John Haylett is the Morning Star’s political editor.
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