When Propaganda Bites Back

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PropagandaBy S Rowan Wolf, Editor In Chief of Cyrano’s Journal Today.

[Image courtesy of Ink Tank.]

The power of propaganda has been on my mind a lot as of late. Two primary things have driven my cogitation. One is the continuing revelations and discussion regarding the activities of the NSA, and the other has been the US coverage and “reporting” on the events in the Ukraine.  Both have come to share many commonalities.

The NSA and the “Stasi”

The response to the NSA releases has been to return once again to WWII and the resulting cold war period in a search for presumed comparable egregious behavior. One of the most notable of these is the article by the highly credible journalist Julia Angwin in her article “You Know Who Else Collected Metadata? The Stasi.” (which I republished here).  In this article Angwin draws upon a comparison to the “Stasi” of East Germany during the early cold war period.

“Stasi”  is a highly associative name assigned by U.S. propagandists for its close sound association with “Nazi.” The agency in question was actually the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or MIS (in English The Ministry for State Security). While it was certainly aggressive in carrying out its mission, it was no more so than its counterparts in other parts of the world- including the United States. As succinctly stated by Stephen Gowans:

“… the Stasi has long been held up by anti-communists as a sui generis—a totalitarian monstrosity that could only exist in a communist society.”

It is critical to note the association to a communist society, as the long standing effort in the U.S. to demonize anything even remotely associated (or labeled to be associated) with communism. It is considered anathema. This umbrella of the dreaded “commies,” the “Reds,” was extended to “socialism” and “socialist.” Even now, supposedly well after the end of the Cold War (please don’t believe for a moment that it actually ended) the term is thrown around – particularly by the right, but definitely across most of the political spectrum – to demonize any foe or concept. So we have the broad scale claims that Obama is a “socialist” advancing his “socialist agenda,” and even that the nation’s safety net (what remains of it) such as food stamps, and even social security, are also “socialist” in their very nature.

This branding of “socialism” with such a broad brush, is an extension of the drum beat of anti-communistic rhetoric and propaganda that has now become an item of faith; or even deeper “received knowledge,” in the U.S. This creation of a “monster,” and its continued life now, was born out to the propaganda efforts from WWII forward. The youtube film below is well worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch. While it is an excellent example of the propaganda of the day, it is also stunning in terms of how much of what is said is part and parcel of current cultural memes, and still repeated in multiple variations today.


[As an aside, a quick Google image search for “anti-communism” brings up a daunting array of images.]

It is true, that the “Stasi” were an intelligence agency whose corollaries could be found in the U.S. (CIA – then known as the OSS, NSA, and FBI) and other nations such as Britain’s MI6 popularized by the “James Bond” series of endless exploits. It is somewhat questionable that it was any more invasive, or destroyed any more lives, than the U.S. covert activities around the globe.

Regardless, what should take folks aback is when our own engrained propaganda about “the commies” and all related, becomes the point of comparison for our own agencies – such as the NSA. We now have an ongoing literary battle about whether the NSA is like the “Stasi,” or arguing that it is not. Interestingly, the root of both arguments is based on the same propaganda constructed conceptualization of “Stasi.” Also of note, is that even the leader of Germany throws the same barbs.

For example those comparing the NSA to the “Stasi.”

Julia Angwin. The Progressive. 2/13/2014. You Know Who Else Collected Metadata? The Stasi.”

Ian Traynor and Paul Lewis. The Guardian, 12/174/2013. Merkel compared NSA to Stasi in heated encounter with Obama.

Tim Shirrock. The Nation, 6/11/2013. A Modern-Day Stasi State.

And those arguing that can’t be true:

James Kirchik. The Foreign Policy Initiative, 7/13/2013 (and republished in the NY Daily News.“). The NSA’s an American Stasi? Outrageous.

And even Edward Snowden. Agence France-Presse via The Raw Stroy, 12/11/2013. Edward Snowden: NSA isn’t like East German Stasi, but still dangerous.

The Ukraine, Russia, and the United States

Anyone who watched much of the Winter Olympics, mostly likely heard at least one derogatory remark regarding Putin or Russia.  It was so pervasive that I found myself embarrassed. I have never heard any nation who was hosting the Olympics (including “communist” China) so consistently mentioned derogatorily by sports casters commentating on the Olympics. The rudeness was stunning – particularly given the lavish set space and digs that NBC had.

If you were very “lucky” or perhaps “unlucky” depending on your viewpoint, you even caught Bob Costas monologue on Putin, Russia, and the Ukraine (2:44 clip is here With Ukraine on the mind, Costas updates safety in Sochi ).  His commentary could have been part of a propaganda campaign. Essentially, he constructed a web of inference and accusation that equated Putin and Russia with dictatorship and brutality (no need to include communism) and then tied the government of Ukraine to Russia, with the people of the Ukraine yearning to be “free” (i.e. more “Western”). No question at all was made of equating the “West” with the United States and “our” apparent right to be involved in the affairs of Ukraine. For a more complete analysis, please read my article Memes of Red Baiting from Costas at the Olympics.

NBC has not been alone in its propaganda role regarding the U.S. involvement in the Ukrainian “revolution.” All of the U.S. corporate media have been “on board.” There is no example more telling than the widely publicized tape of the phone call between Assistant Secretary of State for European and European Affairs Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ukraine ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, and the infamous “Fuck the EU” comment.

While the recording is easily available on youtube; however, the import of it likely escaped most U.S. listeners because of lack of information on the cast of characters. RT, did an explanation of the conversation, and so have other writers such as Stephen Lendman, Patrice Greanville, Bill van Auken. In short, the conversation regards determining who should be the part of the new Ukrainian government, and strategizing meetings with the “opposition.”  The U.S. has already spent an estimated $ 5 BILLION on Ukrainian “democratization” efforts since the 1990s (as per a presentation to the U.S. – Ukraine Foundation by Nuland on December 13, 2013).

Regardless of the source – the corporate media, Olympic sports casters, or U.S. officials – the finger pointing has been at the “bad” Russia and Putin (still “communist” by the tone and implications) and supportive of the “revolutionaries” in their effort to bring true “democracy” to the Ukraine. Further, the conflict is framed as the (formerly) standing government of the Ukraine “leaning towards” Russia, and the rebels (the people of Ukraine) wanting to embrace the EU and “Western” values.

Unfortunately, as those who have been putting their bodies on the line for democracy (unlike the ones being coordinated by the U.S.) are finding out, democracy does not mean “freedom” and a voice in government. It means throwing Ukraine open  to international corporatization (the lynch pin of any economic aide they will receive from the U.S., EU, or IMF).

At the top of the list in terms of “conditioned” support would be deep cuts in domestic spending (austerity program) and “liberalization” (aka capitalist corporatization) of the economy. A first line example of this is the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area agreement. Virtually every word of the title might give one pause before entering into any such compact. One need read no further than the well crafted, one paragraph introduction /”reading guide”:

The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) is part of the Association Agreement between the EU and the Republic of Ukraine, one of  the EU’s most ambitious bilateral agreements yet. The DCFTA will offer Ukraine a framework for modernising its trade relations and for economic development by the opening of markets via the progressive removal of customs tariffs and  quotas, and by an extensive harmonisation of laws, norms and regulations in   various trade – related sectors, creating the conditions for aligning key sectors  of the Ukrainian economy to EU standards.

The standard conditions imposed by the IMF, require similar “adjustments.”

What is ahead is grim and painful, and likely not what the protestors have spent so much of their energy and blood fighting for. They may find disillusionment in the US and EU selected leaders of the “reorganized” Ukraine. Given that there is a willingness and commitment for people to stand their ground (even at high cost), it is hard to believe that they might take the essential takeover of their country without protest.

In Conclusion

Looking at these two currently  “hot” topics, we can see that they both tie back to the same social facts (social artifacts and beliefs that come to be accepted as “real,” “truth,” or “fact”), that are intellectual “blow back” that is still found useful to propagate today. Once one starts looking for references to communism (now generally elicited by “socialism), it is amazing how frequently they arise. Further, as the control mechanisms of the so called “security state,” and the direct actions to protect power and capital become more and more blatant, the references either pass without notice, or are used to direct one’s gaze away from the U.S. The activities of the NSA are breath-taking in their scope. The reporting on the conflict in Ukraine is rich with references to socialism and Russia. Increasingly, the news states that Russia is on one side of conflicts and the U.S. on the other – whether that be Libya, the Ukraine, Iran, etc. Just the repetition of this piece of “news” should give us all pause as to what these conflicts are really about. Somehow, I seriously doubt that it is communism vs democracy. It is about money and power, and who will extract it from the aftermath.


3 comments on “When Propaganda Bites Back
  1. Putin may have not intended it this way but having the troops there may be preventing a blood bath between the neo-nazis on the etreme right and the pro Russian militia in the eastern part of the country.

  2. Thanks so much for adding more resources.

    I fully agree that sometimes trying to make sense of what one reads or hears can be exceptionally difficult. When we consider the level of propaganda and fact shading, along with popular interpretation vs, knowledgeable meanings, vs down right rewriting of history, what is meant and what does the author/speaker know?

    I think it comes down to trying to understand as best one can what has gone on in the past, the vested interest’s twists on that in the present, and then trying to get an answer for the author/speaker on what it is they are actually trying to convey with said term or concept. And that is a sentence that needs help, but I don’t know where to break it. 😉

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