By Julian Lewis
Democracy International – Summer 1989
The Soviet Propaganda Network: A Directory of Organisations Serving Soviet Foreign Policy, by Clive Rose, Pinter Publishers, London; St Martin's Press, New York, NY; 1989, £29.50 hdbk.
The Radical Right: A World Directory, by Ciarán O'Maoláin, Longman/Keesing's Reference Publications, UK; 1987, £45 hdbk.
These two volumes could hardly be more different. One is a scrupulous and authoritative guide to the interlocking network of Soviet-run propaganda front groups. The other is a scurrilous and unconvincing attempt to link democratic Conservative organisations to totalitarian Fascist ones with which, in reality, they would hate to be associated.
When the authors' credentials are considered, this contrast does not seem surprising. Sir Clive Rose had a distinguished diplomatic career for nearly 35 years, culminating in his appointment as UK Ambassador to NATO. O'Maoláin's standpoint can be deduced from the fulsome tribute he pays to the late Maurice Ludmer, a former editor of Searchlight magazine, whom he describes as
"a model and an inspiration to committed journalists everywhere",
and to whom he dedicates his book.
It will be recalled that, under a subsequent editor, the Searchlight formula of trying to taint constitutional Conservatives with the smell of Nazism led to the 'Panorama' programme Maggie's Militant Tendency and the BBC's humiliation at the hands of two Tory MPs. O'Maoláin fails to remind us of Ludmer's Communist Party background or of the glowing obituaries of him published in 1981 in such 'objective' quarters as the Stalinist New Worker, the Trotskyist Militant, the Communist Morning Star, and of course poor old Labour Weekly.
What, then, do these books actually have to say?
Rose's introductory essay revealingly quotes Professor Vyacheslav Dashichev's admission in the Soviet Literary Gazette last May:
"On the one hand we [the USSR] heightened the level of the danger of war by advancing on the West's positions, and on the other we mounted a broad campaign in defence of peace and spared no resources to organise a mass movement of champions of peace."
(Dashichev should know: during the anti-cruise missile agitation, he was one of the Kremlin's 'peace' propagandists touring the West.) Rose concludes that similar glasnost should be applied to the ever-expanding Soviet propaganda machine, and proceeds to undertake this daunting task himself.
He traces its development from the days of the brilliant Willi Münzenberg in the 1920s and 1930s right up to its role in the 1980s peddling lies about US germ warfare laboratories causing AIDS. Fifteen principal and fifteen subsidiary front organisations are identified and profiled in the main section of the book, followed by a further fourteen outfits so Soviet-influenced as to rival the fronts themselves in their unwavering devotion to the Kremlin line. Major national counterparts and affiliates are also featured, including four British Communist fronts. One of these is the deviously-named 'Labour Research Department', proscribed for 30 years by the Labour Party (when it used to care about subversion), yet still often referred to by the British media as "an independent body".
What all these disreputable outfits have in common are numerous links of ideology, structure and personnel, carefully charted by Rose. The publishers of O'Maoláin's book similarly claim that it brings together
"accurate, factual, objective and up to date information on ... some 3000 far-right groups",
country by country. It does no such thing.
Not only is it riddled with inaccuracies, its whole concept is flawed. Democratic and fascist organisations are indiscriminately lumped together on no basis other than geographical location and alphabetical order. Among these "far-right groups" is to be found the British Conservative Party, absurdly sandwiched between the unsavoury 'survivalist' Combat Publications Ltd. and the anti-Semitic Crown Commonwealth League of Rights. Needless to say, almost all of the Conservatives' entry focuses on what is described as the
"substantial fringe element of racists and quasi-fascists"
within the Tory Party.
My favourite bizarre entry is to be found on page 328 (yes, there really are 500 pages of this stuff). Here the influential
"Adam Smith Institute, a right-wing Conservative think-tank headed by Peter Young"
(it isn't, and never has been headed by him) is listed next to "the Adolf Hitler Commando", "the Adolf Hitler League" and "Aims of Industry"! What have these bodies in common? Nothing, according to this book, but that they are all
"right-wing organisations which have been active in Britain in the past 20 years or so ... many of which may now be defunct".
This is not even guilt-by-association – for there is nothing to link these organisations – but guilt-by-arbitrary-juxtaposition.
O'Maoláin's book tackles its subject in the way normally to be expected from critics and scribblers on the Marxist Left. It is extraordinary that it should have been given the Keesing's imprimatur. Would fanatical anti-Socialists have been chosen to compile an 'impartial' and 'objective' directory of the Labour parties of the world? This book has the external appearance of a substantial work of reference; internally it is propaganda of the most tendentious kind.
Julian Lewis is Director of Policy Research Associates.