John Pilger / John Pilger.com – 2013-10-11 01:12:23
“Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fall’n on you:
Ye are many — they are few.”
(October 5, 2013) — These days, the stirring lines of Percy Shelley’s “Mask of Anarchy” may seem unattainable. I don’t think so. Shelley was both a Romantic and political truth-teller. His words resonate now because only one political course is left to those who are disenfranchised and whose ruin is announced on a government spreadsheet.
Born of the “never again” spirit of 1945, social democracy has surrendered to an extreme political cult of money worship. This reached its apogee when Â£1trn of public money was handed unconditionally to corrupt banks by a Labour government whose leader, Gordon Brown, had previously described “financiers” as the nation’s “great example” and his personal “inspiration”.
This is not to say parliamentary politics is meaningless. It has one meaning now: the replacement of democracy with a business plan for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope, every child born.
The old myths of British rectitude, imperial in origin, provided false comfort while the Blair gang built the foundation of the present “coalition”. This is led by a former PR man for an asset stripper and by a bagman who will inherit his knighthood and the tax-shielded fortune of his father, the 17th Baronet of Ballintaylor. David Cameron and George Osborne are essentially fossilised spivs who, in colonial times, would have been sent by their daddies to claim foreign terrain and plunder.
Today, they are claiming 21st-century Britain and imposing their vicious, antique ideology, albeit served as economic snake oil. Their designs have nothing to do with a “deficit crisis”. A deficit of 10 percent is not remotely a crisis. When Britain was officially bankrupt at the end of the Second World War, the government built its greatest public institutions, such as the National Health Service and the arts edifices of London’s South Bank.
There is no economic rationale for the assault described cravenly by the BBC as a “public spending review”. The debt is exclusively the responsibility of those who incurred it, the super-rich and the gamblers. However, that’s beside the point. What is happening in Britain is the seizure of an opportunity to destroy the tenuous humanity of the modern state. It is a coup, a “shock doctrine” as applied to Pinochet’s Chile and Yeltsin’s Russia.
In Britain, there is no need for tanks in the streets. In its managerial indifference to the freedoms it is said to hold dear, bourgeois Britain has allowed parliament to create a surveillance state with 3,000 new criminal offences and laws: more than for the whole of the previous century. Powers of arrest and detention have never been greater. The police have the impunity to kill; and asylum-seekers can be “restrained” to death on commercial flights.
Athol Fugard is right. With Harold Pinter gone, no acclaimed writer or artist dare depart from their well-remunerated vanity. With so much in need of saying, they have nothing to say. Liberalism, the vainest ideology, has hauled up its ladder. The chief opportunist, Nick Clegg, gave no electoral hint of his odious faction’s compliance with the dismantling of much of British postwar society.
The theft of 83 billion pounds in jobs and services matches almost exactly the amount of tax legally avoided by piratical corporations. Without fanfare, the super-rich have been assured they can dodge up to Â£40bn in tax payments in the secrecy of Swiss banks. The day this was sewn up, Osborne attacked those who “cheat” the welfare system. He omitted the real amount lost, a minuscule Â£0.5bn, and that Â£10.5bn in benefit payments was not claimed at all. Labour is his silent partner.
The propaganda arm in the press and broadcasting dutifully presents this as unfortunate but necessary. Mark how the firefighters’ action is “covered”. On Channel 4 News, following an item that portrayed modest, courageous people as basically reckless, Jon Snow demanded that the leaders of the London Fire Authority and the Fire Brigades Union go straight from the studio and “mediate” now, this minute. “I’ll get the taxis!” he declared. Forget the thousands of jobs that are to be eliminated from the fire service and the public danger beyond Bonfire Night; knock their jolly heads together. “Good stuff!” said the presenter.
Ken Loach’s 1983 documentary series Questions of Leadership opens with a sequence of earnest young trade unionists on platforms, exhorting the masses. They are then shown older, florid, self-satisfied and finally adorned in the ermine of the House of Lords.
Once, at a Durham Miners’ Gala, I asked Tony Woodley, now joint general secretary of Unite, “Isn’t the problem the clockwork collaboration of the union leadership?” He almost agreed, implying that the rise of bloods like himself would change that. The British Airways cabin crew strike, over which Woodley presides, is said to have made gains. Has it? And why haven’t the unions risen against totalitarian laws that place free trade unionism in a vice?
The BA workers, the firefighters, the council workers, the post office workers, the NHS workers, the London Underground staff, the teachers, the lecturers, the students can more than match the French if they are resolute and imaginative, forging, with the wider social justice movement, potentially the greatest popular resistance ever.
Look at the web; listen to the public’s support at fire stations. There is no other way now. Direct action. Civil disobedience. Unerring. Read Shelley and do it.
John Pilger was born and grew up in Bondi, Sydney, Australia. He launched his first newspaper at Sydney High School and later completed a four year cadetship with Australian Consolidated Press. “It was one of the strictest language courses I know,” he says. “Devised by a celebrated, literate editor, Brian Penton, the aim was economy of language and accuracy.
It certainly taught me to admire writing that was spare, precise and free of cliches, that didn’t retreat into the passive voice and used adjectives only when absolutely necessary. I have long since slipped that leash, but those early disciplines helped shape my journalism and writing and my understanding of moving and still pictures”.
Like many of his Australian generation, Pilger and two colleagues left for Europe in the early 1960s. They set up an ill-fated freelance ‘agency’ in Italy (with the grand title of ‘Interep’) and quickly went broke. Arriving in London, Pilger freelanced, then joined Reuters, moving to the London Daily Mirror, Britain’s biggest selling newspaper, which was then changing to a serious tabloid.
He became chief foreign correspondent and reported from all over the world, covering numerous wars, notably Vietnam. Still in his twenties, he became the youngest journalist to receive Britain’s highest award for journalism, Journalist of the Year and was the first to win it twice. Moving to the United States, he reported the upheavals there in the late 1960s and 1970s. He marched with America’s poor from Alabama to Washington, following the assassination of Martin Luther King. He was in the same room when Robert Kennedy, the presidential candidate, was assassinated in June 1968.
His work in South East Asia produced a iconic issue of the London Mirror, devoted almost entirely to his world exclusive dispatches from Cambodia in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s reign. The combined impact of his Mirror reports and his subsequent documentary, Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia, raised almost $50 million for the people of that stricken country. Similarly, his 1994 documentary and dispatches report from East Timor, where he travelled under cover, helped galvanise support for the East Timorese, then occupied by Indonesia.
In Britain, his four-year investigation on behalf of a group of children damaged at birth by the drug Thalidomide, and left out of the settlement with the drugs company, resulted in a special settlement.
His numerous documentaries on Australia, notably The Secret Country (1983), the bicentary trilogy The Last Dream (1988) and Welcome to Australia (1999) all celebrated and revealed much of his own country’s ‘forgotten past’, especially its indigenous past and present.
He has won an Emmy and a BAFTA for his documentaries, which have also won numerous US and European awards, such as as the Royal Television Society’s Best Documentary.
His articles appear worldwide in newspapers such as the Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Mail & Guardian (South Africa), Aftonbladet (Sweden), Il Manifesto (Italy). He writes a regular column for the New Statesman, London.
In 2001, he curated a major exhibition at the London Barbican, Reporting the World: John Pilger’s Eyewitness Photographers, a tribute to the great black-and-white photographers he has worked alongside. In 2003, he was awarded the prestigous Sophie Prize for ’30 years of exposing injustice and promoting human rights.’ In 2009, he was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.
His latest film is The War You Don’t See (2010), which was premiered in London both in the cinema and on telelvision.
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