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Understanding the Prism leaks is understanding the rise of a new fascism

It is in popular culture that the fraudulent “ideal” of America as morally superior, a “leader of the free world”, has been most effective.

In his book Propaganda, published in 1928, Edward Bernays wrote: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.
“Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”
The American nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays invented the term “public relations” as a euphemism for state propaganda. He warned that an enduring threat to the invisible government was the truth-teller and an enlightened public.
In 1971, the whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg leaked US government files known as the Pentagon Papers, which showed that the invasion of Vietnam was based on systematic lying. Four years later, Frank Church conducted sensational hearings in the Senate: one of the last flickers of American democracy. These laid bare the extent of the invisible government: the domestic spying and subversion and warmongering by intelligence and “security” agencies and the backing they received from big business and the media, both conservative and liberal.
Speaking about the National Security Agency (NSA), Senator Church said: “I know the capacity that there is to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law . . . so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”
On 11 June, following the revelations in the Guardian by the NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Ellsberg wrote that the US had now fallen into “that abyss”.
Snowden’s revelation that Washington has used Google, Facebook, Apple and other giants of consumer technology to spy on almost everyone is further evidence of a modern form of fascism. Having nurtured oldfashioned fascists around the world – from Latin America to Africa and Indonesia – the genie has risen at home. Understanding this is as important as understanding the criminal abuse of technology.
Fred Branfman, who exposed the “secret” destruction of tiny Laos by the US air force in the 1960s and 1970s, provides an answer to those who still wonder how a liberal African-American president, a professor of constitutional law, can command such lawlessness. “Under Mr Obama, America is still far from being a classic police-state . . .” he wrote. “But no president has done more to create the infrastructure for a possible future police state.” Why? Because Obama understands that his role is not to indulge those who voted for him but to expand “the most powerful institution in the history of the world, one that has killed, wounded or made homeless well over 20 million human beings, mostly civilians, since 1962”.

In the new American cyberpower, only the revolving doors have changed. The director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen, was an adviser to Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state in the Bush administration who lied that Saddam Hussein could attack the US with nuclear weapons. Cohen and Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt – they met in the ruins of Iraq – have co-authored a book, The New Digital Age, endorsed as visionary by the former CIA director Michael Hayden and the war criminals Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair. The authors make no mention of the Prism spying programme, revealed by Snowden, that provides the NSA with access to all of us who use Google.

Control and dominance are the two words that make sense of this. These are exercised by political, economic and military design, of which mass surveillance is an essential part, but also by insinuating propaganda into the public consciousness. This was Edward Bernays’s point. His two most successful PR campaigns convinced Americans that they should go to war in 1917 and persuaded women to smoke in public; cigarettes were “torches of freedom” that would hasten women’s liberation.

It is in popular culture that the fraudulent “ideal” of America as morally superior, a “leader of the free world”, has been most effective. Yet even during Hollywood’s most jingoistic periods there were exceptional films, such as those of the exiled Stanley Kubrick, and adventurous European films would find US distributors. These days there is no Kubrick, no Strangelove, and the US market is almost closed to foreign films.

When I showed my own film The War on Democracy to a major, liberal-minded US distributor, I was handed a laundry list of changes, to “ensure the movie is acceptable”. His memorable sop to me was: “OK, maybe we could drop in Sean Penn as narrator. Would that satisfy you?” Kathryn Bigelow’s torture-apologising Zero Dark Thirty and, this year, Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets, a cinematic hatchet job on Julian Assange, were made with generous backing by Universal Studios, whose parent company until recently was General Electric. GE manufactures weapons, components for fighter aircraft and advanced surveillance technology. The company also has lucrative interests in “liberated” Iraq.

The power of truth-tellers such as Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden is that they dispel a whole mythology carefully constructed by the corporate cinema and the corporate media. WikiLeaks is especially dangerous because it provides truthtellers with a means to get the truth out. This was achieved by Collateral Damage, the cockpit video of a US Apache helicopter allegedly leaked by Manning. The impact of this one video marked Manning and Assange for state vengeance. Here were US airmen murdering journalists and maiming children in a Baghdad street, clearly enjoying it, and describing their atrocity as “nice”. Yet, in one vital sense, they did not get away with it; for we are all witnesses now, and the rest is up to us.


John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 24 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Mr Scotland

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide