“Pitcairn’s” propaganda

Yesterday we began looking at the late Claud Cockburn, a paid Stalinist hack whose lies about the Spanish Civil War moved George Orwell to write Homage to Catalonia, a forthright, meticulously observed account of that war – and of the bloody war-within-a-war that the Cockburn and his fellow Kremlin functionaries waged against their supposed Republican allies.

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Claud Cockburn

In his book, Orwell catalogued the systematic “discrepancies” and “fabrications” that ran “all through the accounts in the Communist press” of events in the Spanish war. Citing a report, for example, in which “Pitcairn” (Cockburn’s pen name) described the POUM as possessing much more in the way of weaponry than it really had, Orwell stated that: 

…these tales about tanks, field-guns, and so forth have only been invented because otherwise it is difficult to reconcile the scale of the Barcelona fighting with the P.O.U.M.’s small numbers. It was necessary to claim that the P.O.U.M. was wholly responsible for the fighting; it was also necessary to claim that it was an insignificant party with no following…The only hope of making both statements credible was to pretend that the P.O.U.M. had all the weapons of a modern mechanized army.

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George Orwell

All in all, Orwell pronounced it “impossible to read through the reports” about the Spanish Civil War that appeared in the Communist press “without realizing that they are consciously aimed at a public ignorant of the facts and have no other purpose than to work up prejudice.” Thus Cockburn’s statement that the Trotskyites fighting on the Republican side had been suppressed by the Popular Army (that is, the Spanish Republican Army, the main Republican faction):

The idea here is to give outsiders the impression that all Catalonia was solid against the “Trotskyists.” But the Popular Army remained neutral throughout the fighting; everyone in Barcelona knew this, and it is difficult to believe that Mr Pitcairn did not know it too. Or again, the juggling in the Communist Press with the figures for killed and wounded, with the object of exaggerating the scale of the disorders.

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Hendrik Hertzberg

This, then, was Claud Cockburn – a bought-and-paid-for propagandist for Josef Stalin. A Kremlin mouthpiece who, like America’s own Walter Duranty, disguised himself as an objective reporter.

And yet, as we’ve said, Cockburn enjoyed immense respectability among the media establishment on both sides of the pond. Remembering him four years ago, the New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg managed to make Claud’s appalling politics sound like merely one of several equally important, and equally colorful, personal attributes. Claud, wrote Hertzberg,

was a wit, a Communist, and a talented journalist — quite a combination. [Imagine writing, with obvious admiration, that someone “was a wit, a Nazi, and a talented journalist — quite a combination.”] Claud was versatile enough to report for both the Times (of London) and the Daily Worker (also of London). [Imagine writing, again with obvious admiration, that someone “was versatile enough to report for both the Times and Der Stürmer.”] In the nineteen-thirties, he started a scabrous, funny, influential, and badly printed paper called The Week, edited by him and discreetly financed by the Comintern. [Imagine…oh, never mind, you get the idea.] The Kremlin, alas, got its money’s worth; but on matters to which Moscow was indifferent (or which happened to serve its interests), The Week broke news that was true and important.

Note that “discreetly”; note that “alas.” The overall effect is to make propagandizing for (and accepting money from) Stalin look not like a reprehensible activity but like a sign of, as Hertzberg puts it, admirable professional versatility.

Stalin’s hack

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Claud Cockburn

He was one of those prominent British figures of the last century who seem to have known or been related to just about everybody else of public consequence. Married first to journalist Hope Hale Davis, second to journalist Jean Ross (on whom Christopher Isherwood is said to have modeled his character Sally Bowles, the heroine in Cabaret), and third to journalist Patricia Byron (mother of his journalist sons Alexander, Andrew, and Patrick), Claud Cockburn (1904-81) was a cousin of Evelyn Waugh and the grandfather of TV journalists Laura and Stephanie Flanders and actress Olivia Wilde.

He was also one of those prominent British figures whose extreme anti-democratic and anti-capitalist political views didn’t keep them from luxuriating in their own economic privilege – or to put the slightest dent in their perceived social respectability.

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Joe Stalin

And when we say extreme, we mean it. Cockburn was an out-and-out Stalinist. He’s rightly been called a “Stalinist shill.” While serving in the International Brigades, which fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, he “covered” the war for the British Daily Worker, writing under the name Frank Pitcairn. He was nothing remotely resembling a legitimate journalist, however; he was, quite simply, a Kremlin propaganda operative, and his closest comrades during his sojourn in Spain were Soviet agents, whose systematic murders of non-Communist Republicans he knew all about – and kept secret. His “reportage” from the front was in fact dictated from beginning to end by his bosses in Moscow, at whose behest he depicted decent liberals and socialists who were fighting for a truly free Spain (as opposed to a Soviet puppet state) as fascists, spies, saboteurs, and murderers. In one article, he actually invented an entire battle, his goal being to make the fascists look weaker than they really were, and thus win French support for the the Republicans.

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Andres Nin

As one socialist writer has put it, “Claud Cockburn’s slanders helped prepare the atmosphere in which [Andres] Nin [head of the POUM, a Spanish party that sought to be a Communist alternative to the Kremlin-directed Communist Party of Spain] and others were murdered. Moreover, his articles were published in the midst of the infamous Moscow Trials. His lies played an objective role in assisting in Stalin’s mass extermination of the Soviet socialist intellectuals and workers.” Cockburn’s “misrepresentations of the Spanish Civil War,” noted Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect, “prodded George Orwell to write Homage to Catalonia.” We’ll look at that masterwork tomorrow.

TV star thinks Cristina Kirchner is, like, really cool

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Emilia Clarke

Not to put too fine a point on it, but here’s a real airhead for you.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose autocratic, corruption-ridden presidency will finally come to an end in December, turns out to be a loyal viewer of the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones. And her favorite member of the cast is British actress Emilia Clarke, who plays a character named Daenerys Targaryen. We don’t watch Game of Thrones, but we’ve poked around a bit on the Internet and discovered that Daenerys Targaryen is a “driven rebel queen…who births dragons” and “liberates legions of slaves.”  

When Clarke found out that Kirchner is a fan of hers, she was surprised. “Really? I didn’t know that. I take it as a compliment. I love women in power.” 

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Cristina Kirchner

There’s a generalization for you: “I love women in power.” Apparently Clarke knows absolutely nothing about Cristina Kirchner.

Nor, we imagine, has she ever heard of the French queen Catherine de Medici, who bullied her son, King Charles IX, into ordering the 1572 St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre, in which tens of thousands of French Protestants were killed all over France. Now there was a woman in power. But lovable? Not so much.

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Mary I

We wonder, too, whether Clarke learned in school about another sixteenth-century monarch, England’s Mary I (“Bloody Mary”), Queen Elizabeth I’s bitter, brutal older sister, who burned hundreds of Protestants at the stake, including Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer. If so, is Clarke a fan? 

Presumably Clarke has heard of Queen Isabella of Spain, who sponsored Christopher Columbus’s voyages of discovery. But does Clarke know that Isabella was also the mastermind of the Spanish Inquisition, in which thousands of Jews were tortured and killed? Talk about power! Clarke’s gotta love Isabella, no?

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Queen Isabella

Clarke had more wisdom to offer on the subject of women in power. “Women who are leaders have a feminine sensibility in a masculine world,” she lectured. “As is the case with the dragon queen” – that is, her own Game of Thrones character – “they have to know when to be more aggressive and when to show more sensitivity.”

(Warning: we’re engaging here in what’s called “back-translating.” Clarke presumably spoke in English, but we’re relying on Spanish-language news reports – so when we translate those remarks back into English, we might not be reproducing them word-for-word.)

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Clarke in character on Game of Thrones

That’s not all. Clarke was asked what advice she would give Kirchner. “Kill all the men!” she replied, adding: “No, no…I’m joking. Better to get some dragons.”

Funny joke. A charitable observer might suggest that Clarke has spent so much time inhabiting a fantasy world that she’s forgotten how horrifying the real world can be.

Or, more likely, she’s just plain dopey.   

Stiglitz’s Gallic delusion

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Channeling Chaplin? (see photo below)

He’s been called “a ‘superstar’ of the Left” who “defaults to leftist ideologies at every turn,” who “offers an old-Keynesian approach to new problems,” who “has assumed the role of social-democratic public-intellectual-in-chief,” who “increasingly labels anyone disagreeing with him as a ‘market fundamentalist’ or a ‘conservative journalist,’” and who’s “essentially an economic crank.”

Charlie-Chaplin-The-Great-Dictator_thumbWe’re talking about Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz, who, as we’ve seen in the last few days, is a fierce critic of the free market, of “American-style capitalism,” and of “economic inequality,” and a zealous enthusiast for welfare states, for an international currency and international tax system, and for the financially irresponsible governments of Greece and Argentina (for both of which, it turns out, he’s been a paid “advisor”).

The absurdity of Stiglitz’s economic views is crystallized in his relatively recent comments on France. As financial analyst Pater Tenebrarum noted a year ago, Stiglitz has been an outspoken fan of France’s profligate government spending – because, in Stiglitz’s view, lowering state spending is the path to economic disaster. Yet as Tenebrarum pointed out, France’s neighbor to the south, Spain, had “been outperforming France for the past several quarters.”

Why? Because, unlike France, Spain cut government spending, reformed its labor laws, and “ma[de] life easier for businesses” in a number of other respects. In short, as Tenebrarum put it, “Spain has done precisely what Mr. Stiglitz believes is leading to failure, while France has done precisely what he believes to guarantee success.” Commenting on Stiglitz’s statements about the French economy – including the claim that France is business-friendly – Tenebrarum could not disguise his incredulity:

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At a 2010 Italian Trade Commission event in New York

He believes that a government that is spending a record 58% of GDP every year – more than any other government in the allegedly capitalist countries – and that is well-known for having instituted the highest tax rates in Europe and having put in place the most onerous business regulations imaginable, is a paragon of “pro business austerity”!

To say that this is utterly ridiculous is the understatement of the century. How can one make such an assertion and keep a straight face? Hundreds of thousands of young entrepreneurs have fled France for more business-friendly places such as the UK, because they simply felt they could not operate in France’s extremely hostile business climate….

Is Mr. Stiglitz unaware of the fact that France has introduced a 75% marginal tax rate for high income earners, which is in fact the highest in the world? Stiglitz should in fact explain to us why the sure-fire “success” of this policy in France is so conspicuous by its absence (since he asserts above that raising taxes on the rich will “boost the economy”!). 

While acknowledging that one can have an opinion on business matters without ever having run a business, Tenebrarum added that “anyone who has struggled with establishing a small business in hostile bastions of socialism in the EU such as France” would be stunned by Stiglitz’s statement that “the level of corporate taxation has little effect on investment.” Tenebrarum’s own take on this claim:

Detail of the facade of the Bank of France headquarters in Paris May 9, 2012. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

This is spoken like a life-long leftist academic and bureaucrat who has never created one iota of real wealth in his life, who has never taken any personal risk or ever had to worry about paying someone else’s wages. Anyone who has ever taken the risks about which Mr. Stiglitz evidently knows nothing will confirm how utterly misinformed this comment is. In Europe, the entrepreneurial spirit has been completely crushed in many places due to extremely high taxation and massive over-regulation. And yet, how does Stiglitz believe new wealth is going to be produced? It’s not going to drop from the sky, that much is certain.

And that, in the end, is perhaps the most important thing that needs to be said about the economic preferences, proposals, pretenses, and prognostications of Columbia University’s own Professor Stiglitz.