Grounds for Suspicion

There is nothing unbelievable about a Prince of the Church being a thoroughly corrupt criminal.

People who claim to be in direct communion with supernatural beings and and make a living from interceding with them on behalf of petitioners are widely regarded as dishonest or delusional. They used to be generally trusted and many still trust them. But many more don’t.

Being a Cardinal is now, in itself, grounds for suspicion. Perhaps also grounds for suspicion of a sense of invulnerability that might explain implausibly brazen attacks rather than the more usual furtiveness of corrupt criminals. Knowing that one is both untrustworthy and trusted could explain a lot.

But grounds for suspicion and grounds for conviction are quite different matters.

It is a crime under s316 of the NSW Crimes Act s where a person “knows or believes” that a serious crime has been committed, and fails, without a reasonable excuse, to inform the police.

An Archbishop convicted by a jury for failing to report child abuse under s316 was quite recently acquitted on appeal. The court held there was a reasonable doubt as to whether he believed the allegation.

There was no widespread dismay or enthusiasm about that Archbishop being charged and found guilty, nor at the subsequent acquittal.

That is because both the prosecution of the Archbishop and the appeal made sense and it is the normal function of courts for some jury convictions to be held unsafe on appeal.

But public reaction to the recent conviction of a Cardinal is much deeper and will not end with either result from the appeal.

What does not make sense is that there has been no regular flow of such cases, with both convictions and acquittals since the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse documented the extent of deliberate concealment of abuse by institutions supposedly caring for children, especially by religious institutions and most notoriously by the Catholic Church.

The Cardinal’s case is viewed quite differently because he was not charged with an offence that actually made sense.

The Royal Commission recommended codification of an offence similar to that now in s49o of the Crimes Act Victoria. This provides 5 years imprisonment for “Failure by a person in authority to protect a child from a sexual offence”.

The offence requires a substantial risk existing, knowing of the risk, being in a position with power and responsibility to reduce or remove the risk and negligently failing to do so, that is, “falling short of the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the circumstances.”

http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/ca195882/s49o.html

That seems a pretty good codification of the crimes that George Pell and his colleagues have been accused of but have not been charged with.

Does recent codification of the offence preclude charges based on crimes committed before the codification?

In what barbaric society has it ever not been a crime for people responsiible for taking care of children to neglect protecting them? Has the moral panic about child sexual abuse obliterated memory of the mandatory protection of children from harm in general that predates civilization and has nothing to do with either sex or police? “Little Children are Sacred”.

George Pell was convicted of raping two children because nobody from the Church he leads has been charged with notorious crimes of failing to protect children.

Retribution is an important element of criminal law enforcement quite separate from deterrence and rehabilitation. If you allow impunity for notorious crimes you can expect far worse than unsafe prosecutions on some pretext or other. Sacrifice of scapegoats may or may not catch a guilty scapegoat. But its most likely result is to satisfy the instinct for retribution while letting criminals escape justice.

Historically children complaining of abuse have often not been believed, not only by priests, and especially when the complaints are made decades after the event. That has made it necessary to relax rules of evidence regarding corroboration, tendency evidence and joint trials and to instruct juries that it is not uncommon for an adult to come forward with a complaint decades after the event and to be inconsistent about the details.

There was a history of police collaboration with authorities accused of child abuse, especially catholic police with church authorities. That had to be reversed by training police as well as social workers to side with and believe the accuser.

These changes are intended to increase the proportion of successful convictions and necessarily create a very real danger of wrongful convictions. There are good reasons for the opposite policies to be followed for most serious crimes. We prefer to risk guilty people being acquitted than innocent people being convicted.

The exception that has been made for child sexual abuse puts a heavy onus on prosecution authorities to determine whether a prosecution would be unsafe. They can make that decision more objectively at a distance. Police and social workers can still comfort and side with the victim despite the prosecutor’s decision not to put both accused and accuser through a trial that should, if it results in a conviction, ultimately be overturned as unsafe on appeal.

The alternative of putting every accusation before a jury that police trained to believe accusations find credible, would inevitably result in unsafe convictions.

No prosecution could be more manifestly unsafe than that of a rightly despised and reviled Prince of a Church whose leaders are widely known to have escaped trial for serious crimes of omission and concealment based on a single individual’s accusation about events two decades ago with no supporting evidence whatever.

George Pell could not give evidence himself because his credibility would have been ripped to shreds with questions about his behaviour in protecting the racket he works for instead of the children placed in their care. Putting him in the witness box would have presented the jury with an unsavoury character who deserves some sort of punishment for something.

The police actively solicited complaints against Pell. That is an understandable reaction to the impunity with which the Church he led has obstructed justice instead of rescuing children in their care from predators on their staff. The widespread enthusiasm and relief with which the verdict was greeted clearly reflects the same reaction. It has nothing to do with the specific charges and is openly proclaimed to be therapeutic for victims of the church generally. The coverage screams that it is sacrifice of a scapegoat.

I don’t agree that there was an atmosphere of hysteria that would have made a fair trial impossible.

It was quite possible that a jury could have concluded there was a reasonable doubt. A previous jury failed to agree. Perhaps that was what the prosecutors expected would happen. They just didn’t want to cop the blame for not locking up a creep like Pell themselves and preferred to leave it to a judge and jury who would be less likely to be accused of covering up.

Fear of such accusations would have had a real basis. Just look at the complaints from the Premier of Victoria and the likely next Prime Minister of Australia at the friends of Pell who showed “bad judgment” in standing by him with character references. It doesn’t take much courage for friends to not desert each other and it doesn’t take much courage for prosecutors to put up with accusations. But it takes utter shamelessness to parade one’s good judgment in shunning friends that are in trouble and demanding that others behave the same way.

I am no friend of George Pell, but I do know he should not be made a scapegoat just because the police wanted to look like they were doing something about the impunity and obstruction and the prosecution authorities didn’t want to be suspected of covering up church crimes. So do the shameless opportunists celebrating and denouncing.

So do Pell’s friends and referees. If he is eventually convicted of failing to protect children they may not agree but they won’t be able to convince themselves, let alone anybody else, that he was purely a scapegoat rather than legitmately accused and necessarily tried.

Pell’s conviction for raping children was manifestly unsafe because the prosecution was manifestly unsafe.

It is not enough for the conviction to be overturned and for genuine crimes of failure to protect to be tried. There are grounds for suspicion that there should also be another much more significant trial.

By offering a scapegoat the prosecutors were effectively avoiding difficult trials for real crimes. If that was done intentionally it was a direct attack on the rule of law by the authorities responsible for maintaining the rule of law. Whether it was done intentionally should be impartially investigated by an independent prosecutorial authority from another State, considering prosecution of the Victorian prosecutors for misconduct in public office.

Eventually a lot of people from a lot of institutions will need to be put on trial. For the Catholic church it is a world wide problem. Civil reparations throughout the world will require records from the Vatican and sale of the valuables in the Vatican. That first requires ending the pretence that it is an independent sovereign absolute monarchy as established by a treaty with the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini.

This Royal Commission quote from Pell looks to me like an admission of guilt for proceediings based on “command responsibility” and “criminal failure to take action to prevent foreseeable harm to children”. Many others would be joined in the same proceedings.

“If the truck driver picks up some lady and then molests her, I don’t think it’s appropriate, because it is contrary to the policy, for the ownership, the leadership of that company to be held responsible,” Cardinal Pell told the commission via video link from Rome.

Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said priests got access to children with the parents’ consent, unlike truck drivers.

“The relationship between the priest and a child is quite different to that between the truck driver and the casual passenger, isn’t it?” he asked Cardinal Pell.

“Yes, I would certainly concede that,” Cardinal Pell responded.”

The “ownership, the leadership” of the flock may view their role as shepherds preparing their flock for fleecing the same way other corporate criminals do. But our society is less tolerant of failure to protect children from abuse than of the usual run of corporate crime such as bankers stealing from dead clients.

I am not a prosecutor so it isn’t up to me. But Victoria urgently needs competent prosecutors with integrity.

Are property rights essential to prosperity and liberty? The ‘No’ case.

This is a presentation by socialist economist David McMullen at a Melbourne Argument debate at the Royal Oak Hotel, North Fitzroy, Melbourne, on February 8, 2017. His opponent was Ted Lapkin, a former adviser in the Abbott government.

Private Property Rights are Essential not only to Economic Prosperity but to Political Liberty – The No Case

February 12, 2017 via Different Wavelength

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When looking at economic prosperity and political liberty, the private property rights we are concerned about are the ownership rights of the capitalist class over the means of production or productive assets. We are not arguing about private property rights over items of consumption. So I acknowledge everyone’s right to their own toothbrush.

What I want to contend is that in the future we will get by very nicely without private ownership of the means of production. We will do this by creating a class free society where the means of production are socially rather than privately owned. This will free the economy of the many shackles placed on it by capitalism and at the same time create a society that requires the fullest political freedom for its proper functioning.This future system is generally referred to as communism.

OK why do I take this singularly unpopular position which everyone knows has been totally discredited? Well, I subscribe to the Marxist view that capitalism creates the conditions for this new more advanced system.In a nutshell, capitalism eliminates the need for the profit motive and hence the need for its own existence. It does this through the creation of modern industry and technology which open up the prospect of universal prosperity, and of robots and computers doing all the work that we really don’t want to do. Under these new conditions we can begin to imagine people working because they like what they are doing and they want to contribute, while at the same time being happy with an equal share of an increasing level of prosperity. In other words we can see social ownership having a totally different and better form of motivation than the profit motive that is associated with private ownership.

This means that what was previously impossible becomes possible.Past history already tells us that sharing poverty and laborious work is impossible. You cannot create equality under those conditions. It is a utopian dream. For example, as the Middle Ages illustrate it only requires a small band of thugs who would prefer to live off everybody else’s hard work and you end up with a very nasty class society. Also when assessing the experience of the Soviet Union, and the various regimes derived from it, it is important to keep in mind their backward economic conditions as a factor in determining how things turned out there.

Now, favorable economic conditions presently only exist in the rich countries where less than 20 per cent of the world’s people reside. What about the rest of the world? It looks like it is going to take a number of generations for them to develop. It is hard to be any more definite than that. However, I would suggest that the prospects are best if there is a healthy global economy and a willingness to provide well directed economic aid and also to offer diplomatic and military assistance to those resisting the forces of tyranny and corruption.

Anyway, why do I consider that social ownership will bring greater economic prosperity and progress? There are five reasons that strike me as being particularly important.

  1. Firstly capitalist firms cannot match the work performance that would be achieved where workers unprompted want to do the job to the best of their ability.Capitalist firms have to apply various rewards and penalties to get their employees to do their bidding. However, if a job is in any way complex it becomes difficult to correctly assess how well people are doing their job. And jobs are becoming increasingly complex so this is becoming more and more of a problem.
  2. Secondly once we get rid of private ownership and private debt we will also get rid of economic crises, stock market crashes, bank collapses and extended periods of depressions or recessions that lead to unemployment and reduced production.
  3. Thirdly we will get rid of the waste of human labor that Marx called pauperization where a large number of people are thrown on the scrap heap and survive on welfare. They are not equipped to develop work skills or they are psychologically maimed from living in this society.
  4. Fourthly, we will not have capitalism’s sluggishness in terms of what are arguably the main drivers of economic progress, namely,science, research and development, and technological innovation. There are a number of reasons for capitalism’s lack of vigor in this area. If I can beg your indulgence I will list six that I am aware of. Firstly, capitalists are not interested in major technological breakthroughs that will make their present investments less valuable or even obsolete. They just want incremental improvements that increase their value. Secondly, benefits from spending on R&D are long term but capitalists tend to have a short term perspective. Thirdly because of the public good nature of new knowledge, firms cannot capture all the benefits and so underspend on it. Fourthly, where intellectual property right laws are applied, access to knowledge is restricted. Fifthly, government funding for R&D is the first thing to go when there are government budget cuts. And also there is huge wastage as researchers game the funding system and personal prestige and career take precedence over outcomes. And sixthly, capitalism generates an anti-technology and anti-science attitude among the alienated masses. People see the modern industry created by capitalism as the problem rather than capitalism itself. We have people whose livelihood is threatened by new technologies. And there are the greenies who have a romantic view of the pre-industrial past.
  5. Now the last but by no means least on my list of capitalism’s economic problems that will be overcome under communism is what economists like to call government failure.Capitalism tolerates a lot of bureaucracy and regulation.Much of it is devoted to catering to the needs of vested interests in ways that harm the economy. Vested interest is just another term for private property. And as well as this there is of course empire building by career minded bureaucrats.

OK those are my arguments for why I think that private ownership of the means of production is a fetter on the economy. Now I want to address what I think are the two main arguments against what I’ve been saying. Firstly, we are told that social ownership would require excessive centralization and secondly that you can’t change human nature.

Economists argue that all this well-intentioned motivation would come to very little because an economy based on social ownership has an inherent economic calculation problem: in the absence of market transactions between enterprises it could not have a properly functioning price system. And as a consequence social ownership would require clumsy centralized resource allocation of the kind that existed in the Soviet Union. I am not going to speculate on how economic decisions will be made in the future under communism. However, we can say that there is nothing about the non-market transfers of custody over components from producer to user enterprises that would prevent them from making decentralized decisions based on prices. Furthermore, we could hardly do a worse job of allocating investment funds than do highly fluctuating interest rates and exchange rates produced by capitalist finance. Indeed, there are good reasons for thinking that economic decision-making would be far superior to that under capitalism. To begin with, because of the absence of ownership barriers, there would be far more scope for coordination, and less scope for secrecy and deception.

Human nature and mutual regard

Now what about human nature? A society based on social ownership requires far more than simply state ownership, although that is a prerequisite. There need to fundamental changes in people’s behavior and abilities.

The behavior change can be best summed up in the expression ‘mutual regard’.You do the right thing because you want to contribute and you know that your efforts are not futile because a large and increasing section of society is doing likewise. As well as being the basis of morality and what is considered honorable it is also enlightened self-interest. By everybody serving others we are all served. This altruism is not the self-denial that Ayn Rand made it out to be.

Many would doubt the ability of rank and file workers to do the complex kinds of work required in the future. However, I would suggest that people have greatly untapped potential. There are many ways that they are presently held back or find themselves unchallenged.

The kinds of changes we are talking about here will not happen overnight. There will have to be a transition period that will take a generation or more and is generally referred to as socialism. It will take time to totally eliminate private ownership, starting with the big fish, and it will take time to move completely away from the old capitalist work incentives. And it won’t be smooth sailing. Good behavior will only win out once the good majority gain the confidence and moral courage to stand up to those who behave badly. And there will be lots of old management types trying to run things in the old way and convincing workers that the new ways are futile. So it will be touch and go for a while and we may need more than one stab at it.

Now let’s look at political liberty

With the emergence of capitalism we have seen for the first time a degree of political liberty. We have constitutions limiting the power of government, we have elections, the separation of powers, habeas corpus. These would have been unimaginable in the Middle Ages or in any other pre-capitalist society.

The main problem however is that the capitalist system tends to abandon political liberty in times of crisis. Also a big test of political freedom is our freedom to confiscate the means of production from the capitalists and convert them into social property. In the face of a serious revolutionary movement one would expect to see states of emergency, unofficial death squads, and well-resourced propaganda campaigns spreading fascism and xenophobia.

Historical accidents

What conclusions should we draw about the lack of democracy in the so-called communist bloc countries? The Soviet Union etc? The first thing to note is that we dealing with an historical accident. By virtue of some rather specific or contingent circumstances,communists found themselves in charge in countries that with few exceptions were economically and socially backward, and totally unsuited to undertaking a communist revolution. Also, the regimes did not arise as a result of popular support for communism. In the revolutions in the Soviet Union and China the primary concern of the peasant masses was nothing more than land reform. In Eastern Europe the regimes were due to the arrival of the Soviet Red Army at the end of WWII rather than popular revolutions. So I think it is safe to say that these regimes would not have survived if they had been democratic.

However, it is important to keep in mind the alternative in most cases was right-wing tyranny rather than democracy. And of course these regimes eventually lost the minimal revolutionary content they may have originally had.So their authoritarian nature could no longer be blamed on communists. Instead we just had phonies like Vladimir Putin who pretended to be communists until the collapse of the Soviet Union and we presently have people like Xi Jinping in China who still pretend to be communists. The take-home message here is that the conditions were very different from what we would expect in the future when revolutionary regimes come to power in highly developed societies on the back of widespread support for their political program.

Freedom of speech

Now, the economist Milton Friedman famously argued that freedom of speech and the emergence of diverse political groups require the decentralization of resource ownership that only capitalism can deliver.He argued that under capitalism you have the possibility of finding a rich patron. Marx and Frederick Engels and the Bolsheviks received money from anonymous benefactors as well as from robbing banks. Under social ownership, however, resources would be centralized in the hands of the very authorities that you may want to criticize. However, I would argue that with everyone having very high disposable incomes and access to the Internet you would not have to rely on central authorities providing resources. Also I do not see any insurmountable obstacles to ensuring open access for various resources needed for a vibrant political life.

I do not want to paint too rosy a picture.A revolutionary government during its initial phase may have to declare a state of emergency if there is a rebellion by supporters of the old order. Their rebellion could take the form of civil war, terrorism and sabotage, and dealing with it will not be easy. At the same time, for success, we will need the freedom to criticize those in positions of authority when they display incompetence or lack of revolutionary politics. Bottom up supervision will be a critical part of the system. Indeed, a social system that relies on people taking the initiative without external prompting, could not function if people are not able to say what they think is wrong and what they think should be done about it.

Summing up

I will now make two points to briefly sum up.

Firstly, capitalism creates the very economic conditions required for a more advanced classless society that will be based on social ownership of the means of production.

Secondly, a primary task for the present period is ensuring economic and political progress in the more backward regions of the world. For this we need a liberal global economic order, well directed economic aid, and diplomatic and military support in fighting the battle for democracy. And critical to this is beating back the nationalist anti-globalist wind that is blowing at the moment.

 

Magna Carta: Reignite the spirit of rebellion!

Freedom is never given to us – it must be won.

As long as the human spirit retains its aspiration for liberty, Magna Carta will serve as a symbol of the neverending struggle for freedom.

No sooner did the rebellious barons force King John to grant them Magna Carta in June 1215 than it was annulled, just 10 weeks later, by Pope Innocent III. Although it was reissued by John’s son Henry in 1216, its status remained insecure, until a definitive version was conceded in 1225. What the experience of the 13th century demonstrated is that hard-won rights and freedoms can never be taken for granted.

Magna Carta was by no means the last word on freedom. It was a medieval document that provided safeguards against the arbitrary rule of the king. It implicitly upheld ideals that would gradually crystallise into a tradition that respected the rule of law. Some historians have questioned the iconic status of Magna Carta, on the grounds that it was a ‘Baron’s Charter’ and did little to protect ordinary people from injustice. However, what was important about this document was not simply what it said, but how it was seen by successive generations.

Magna Carta provided the foundation for a political culture that celebrated freedom against the exercise of arbitrary authority. English customary law drew on the precedent of the rebellion against King John to question and, in the end, unsettle the claim to Divine Right Kingship. Magna Carta was idealised and turned into a foundational myth by the radical wing of the parliamentary opposition to the Stuart dynasty. One of my heroes John Lilburne (1615-57), a true champion of liberty and one of the leading voices in the Levellers, linked the ideals of Magna Carta to the foundation of a new nation. Lilburne went to prison to defend the right not to incriminate oneself. He argued that self-incrimination violated Magna Carta.

Over the centuries, Magna Carta has become a historic document to which a bewildering variety of parties have attached their democratic and freedom-oriented ambitions. Although it has served as a foundation for English identity, its idealisation has transcended the borders of any single nation. Its universal appeal speaks to the universal attempt to overcome the obstacles to freedom.

The necessity of almost every generation since 1215 to appeal to the precedent set by Magna Carta points to the always precarious status of freedom. Freedom depends on a political culture that takes the principles of an open and democratic ethos seriously. History shows that freedoms that really mean something are won through the action of public-spirited people rather than being gifted by a benevolent ruler or state. In the current era, this lesson is often overlooked, as campaigners and movements look to the state to ‘empower’ them.

This misconceived project of finding freedom through the state rather than fromthe state is encouraged by an ideology that mistrusts people. Eight hundred years after the sealing of Magna Carta, we are confronted with the uncomfortable fact that in many Western societies, individual freedoms are no longer highly valued. The casual manner in which freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are often disregarded means that the rule of others – whether formal or informal — can too often be implemented with little resistance.

The spirit of rebellion which animated lovers of liberty from the 13th century onwards need to be reignited, so that the new generations assuming responsibility for the future understand that freedom is not just another word.

Frank Furedi is a sociologist and commentator. His latest book, First World War: Still No End in Sight, is published by Bloomsbury. (Order this book from Amazon (UK).)

ASADA exposed… defend everyone’s civil liberties

All politically motivated attacks on anyone’s freedom should be exposed and fought. Agencies like ASADA that consider themselves above the law should be opposed and exposed. Anyone who has their rights restricted should be supported and encouraged to defend their rights.

Following post received, with gratitude, from guest blogger TomB.

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The investigation into Australian Football League club Essendon players receiving drugs has concluded that there was no illegal substance injected. The AFL’s anti-doping tribunal found that had proper records been kept then there would have been no need for an inquiry.

More than two years of investigations and public grandstanding by a government organisation fanned along by the media has now started to turn against that agency. The background to the investigation is now coming to light.

The Labor government wanted to get the focus off their incompetent government and were willing to ruin people’s careers and place others under unnecessary negative scrutiny, not to mention defamation slander and gossip that accompanies a witch hunt.  This was just to ‘buy time’ for the Labor government not to even save it – which nothing could do.

The media was happy to accommodate and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) saw an opening for it to gain more money and more power. This was always the case and one journalist Chip Le Grande from The Australian did actually report most of the facts over the two years; however no other journalist did or bothered to acknowledge or respond to his articles. Even now there are journalists saying we will never know if they took illegal drugs. No player returned a positive test and there is no evidence of illegal drugs being administered. The criteria for not knowing is the same as for everyone else, we will never know if anyone is given something they weren’t supposed to get but any reasonable person assumes the doctor is giving you a flu shot when he says he is.

ASADA has now shifted focus to the way drugs were given and is trying to salvage some credibility by pretending to be concerned about the same players they want banned from professional sport. They are doing this not through the proper channels but through the media. The outcome has finally exposed what should have been reported from the beginning: a fruitless attempt by a government agency for relevancy and an orchestrated attempt by the government of the day to distract attention away from its poor governance.

The disappointing aspect  is that this was so easily achieved. So many people were only too happy to jump on board. They found a club isolated and players singled out and then “put the boots in”. Other clubs saw an advantage for themselves as did other players and took full advantage. Now they are trying to cover this up or make excuses for their opportunistic behaviour.

The political issue here is that it is still possible to have scapegoats, witch hunts etc. It may only be sport but it was instigated by a political party in order to gain popularity. The fact that it was the ALP is not surprising as one would expect that if any party is going to resort to fascist tactics it is the ALP. All politically motivated attacks on anyone’s freedom should be exposed and fought. Agencies like ASADA that consider themselves above the law should be opposed and exposed. Anyone who has their rights restricted should be supported and encouraged to defend their rights. It would seem at the moment professional sports people are denied the same rights as others.

Marx, Murdoch and freedom of the press

“Censorship should be resisted in all its insidious forms. We should be vigilant of the gradual erosion of our freedom to know, to be informed, and make reasoned decisions in our society and in our democracy” – from ‘Smash fascism!’ leaflet, published by the Red Left group, Melbourne, 1970.

If you didn’t blink at the above quote, from the ‘Red Left’ group in 1970, then that’s because the sentiment expressed is precisely what you would expect from a ‘Red Left’ group in 1970. It is what those of us on the left actually believed back then. The quote, however, is not from a leaflet: the ‘Red Left’ group is fictitious. The words are those of Lachlan Murdoch in his 2014 ‘Keith Murdoch Oration’ in Melbourne.

Censoriousness is yet another indicator of the move to the Right in Australia’s political culture. In common with the C19th Prussian ruling class, who wanted to ban publication of anything offensive to religion or morality, in Australia the Labor Party, the Coalition and the Greens have been all for allowing the C21st bourgeois state to decide what is offensive in a publication and what isn’t. And, like the Prussian state, they supported a body to ensure that only ‘proper’ and ‘accurate’ content is published. In Australia, the previous government – with delightful Orwellian sensibility – called this the ‘Public Media Interest Advocate’ (PMIA). After all, the masses – you know, the “motive force of history” – cannot be trusted. Ah, what would they know?! Fortunately, the PMIA was defeated.

When individuals and groups self-identifying as ‘left-wing’ support censoriousness, the notion of a pseudo-left comes into play. Opposition to press freedom has nothing in common with Marxism or a Marxist-influenced Left.

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Fighting censorship

I first intentionally broke the law as a left-wing political activist in the late 1960s, when I was a student at high school. Armed with a bundle of copies of a banned pamphlet, which from memory was called either ‘US War Crimes in Vietnam’ or ‘North Vietnam: an eye-witness account’, I distributed the banned material to those among my fellow students whom I knew, or felt, were thinkers.

The pamphlet had been banned under the Obscene Publications Act (from memory) and I was worried about being caught and facing the embarrassment of arrest for distribution of ‘obscene literature’. To young blokes in their mid-teens, ‘obscene literature’ was something other than images of napalmed women and children.

I wasn’t caught, or punished, but the school principal spoke in generality at the next assembly about the importance of the law and the consequences of breaking it, even in situations where it may seem unjust. I wasn’t – and have never been – an anarchist, so I accepted the need for the law but also felt it was right to break it in this particular circumstance.

A couple of years later at university, I – and other young communists – expected, and DEMANDED, the right to freely distribute the pamphlets, leaflets, and off-set-printed newspapers that we were publishing at frenetic pace.

Within a short period of time, I came to identify with the Maoist rebels in Melbourne, and happily embraced that label. The main thing that appealed to me was the fact that Mao had declared “It is right to rebel!” at a time when Australia’s political leaders were either doing their best to crush dissent or contain it by telling us radicals to ‘use the proper channels for change’. During the Cultural Revolution in China, in the early period, hundreds of new newspapers were being published and expressing divergent and often antagonistic views. ‘Big character posters’ were pasted on walls, criticizing corrupt party officials and exposing bureaucrats who were holding things back.

Freedom to express one’s views means freedom to speak them, and also freedom to publish them. In the flair of our own youth ‘cultural revolution’ back then, I loved the slogans coming out of Paris in 1968. ‘Sous les paves, la plage’ (beneath the paving stones, the beach) is on the masthead of this blog, but I also relished others, including ‘Il est interdit d’interdire’ (It is forbidden to forbid).

Struggle against censorship was a big issue in Australia in the 1960s and the left played an important part in opposing it.

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‘Comrade’ Lachlan Murdoch – “Every citizen a journalist!”

In his oration, Lachlan Murdoch makes some important points. For instance, he understands how the new technologies have a liberating potential in the sense that everyone can be a publisher or a reporter:

“Journalists today file electronically, not just by email but through streaming live images through Skype or Facetime. Pictures taken seconds before can be seen in newsrooms half the world away. Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Tumblr, Instagram, even Snapchat are used to amplify a story to devastating effect. These are tools available not only to journalists but to everyone with a mobile phone. Every journalist has these tools, yes, but also every soldier, every citizen, every teenager, taxi driver, mum, dad, troll, and yes, terrorist”.

“Every citizen a journalist!” – Sounds like something Mao might have said.

Murdoch jr also takes a very good line on the recent Australian security anti-terror proposals. He says: “Our current government is introducing legislation that includes jailing journalists for up to 10 years if they disclose information that relates to a “special intelligence operation.” This proscription lasts in perpetuity. Forever. Long after an operation is complete. And breaching it has no defined defences, despite such defences being well understood under Australian law”.

He provides important facts about the extent of the new “era of human communication” in which we all live:

“Of the 5 billion mobile phones in use today, 1.8 billion are smart phones, capable of publishing and receiving media. Currently smartphone sales are running at about 400 million units per quarter… Over 2 billion pieces of user-generated content are created every day. There are 277,000 tweets every minute. Ten per cent of the world’s images were recorded in the last six months. In fact, 90 per cent of the world’s digital data has been created in the last two years”.

It must be increasingly difficult being a dictator, trying to control a population. In the old days, they could send in goons to seize printing-presses. But today?

Lachlan Murdoch also points out that “the creation of the internet has not, in itself, made the world a better place. It cannot force any of us to be better human beings. But, through the knowledge it facilitates, the internet can help us to choose to be better. Choice is the nature of freedom. And knowledge is at the very root of free choice. It is also at the very core of our democracy”.

And through that knowledge and that choice, people like myself see the likelihood of a better future, one in which the big media empires will be redundant and ‘melt into air’.

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Karl Marx: the free press as the ubiquitous vigilant eye of a people’s soul

Karl Marx’s first political activism was prompted by the issue of press censorship by the Prussian ruling class. He was a journalist from the 1840s to the 1860s and, as a supporter of the bourgeois democratic revolutions in Europe, he wrote eloquently about the need for freedom of the press. Marx had been editor of ‘Rheinische Zeitung’ and ‘Neue Rheinische Zeitung’, as well as European correspondent for the ‘New York Tribune’. He wrote nearly 500 articles for the latter.

The context for Marx’s campaign against press censorship was the decision taken by the Prussian cabinet in 1841 to extend the scope of the censorship law by decree. Under the decree, the state could censor anything critical of the “fundamental principles of religion and offensive to morality and good will”. It was long ago but, gee, there is resonance there with attacks on press freedom in the C21st, including in Australia. The term “offensive” certainly leaps out. And Marx responded as any good leftist should: “The censorship law”, he stated, “is not a law, it is a police measure”. And, moreover, “The censorship law is a law of suspicion against freedom”.

In 1843, Marx himself was censored when he wrote an article exposing the poverty among wine-farmers in the Mosel region. The ‘Rheinische Zeitung’ was banned and Marx was threatened with arrest. So, he did what any good revolutionary would do: he quickly married his fiance and fled to Paris.

For Marx, there could be no progress without freedom of the press. Comparing it to a beautiful woman, he declared that it “has its beauty… which one must have loved to be able to defend”. Censorship to Marx was an “illogical paradox” as the Prussian rulers and their ideologues argued that it was necessary in order to improve the quality of the press. Again, this has remarkable resonance with C21st press censorship. That a free press will sometimes produce lots of nonsense and much that is repugnant is true, but as Marx pointed out: “You can’t pluck the rose without its thorns!” How strange that some people and groups claiming to be left-wing today actually seem to believe that the state – the bourgeois state, I hasten to add – should be empowered to remove the thorns for our protection, as though we – the members of society – could not decide what is, or what isn’t, a thorn for ourselves. A Marxist-influenced left opposes press censorship.

Marx spent a fair bit of time fleeing different places but finally settled in London in 1849, one year after publication of the ‘Communist Manifesto’ which he wrote with Frederick Engels. He died in London in 1883.

Among his rich legacy of revolutionary thought and writing are these words against press censorship; perhaps among the finest ever written on the topic:

“The free press is the ubiquitous vigilant eye of a people’s soul, the embodiment of a people’s faith in itself, the eloquent link that connects the individual with the state and the world, the embodied culture that transforms material struggles into intellectual struggles and idealises their crude material form. It is a people’s frank confession to itself, and the redeeming power of confession is well known. It is the spiritual mirror in which a people can see itself, and self-examination is the first condition of wisdom. It is the spirit of the state, which can be delivered into every cottage, cheaper than coal gas. It is all-sided, ubiquitous, omniscient. It is the ideal world which always wells up out of the real world and flows back into it with ever greater spiritual riches and renews its soul.” (Censorship, Karl Marx 1842)

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Postscript: There is an article at The Drum about this, which argues the Murdoch print media supports the new ‘security laws’: Murdoch’s belated stand.

ASAGA

Thanks to ‘Tomb’ for this post.

It may seem of little importance, just athletes and drugs; however it is about freedom and if you deny it to any group of people then that can always be applied to anyone or everyone.

ASAGA

The attack on freedom comes in many different ways and in many different areas, from jailing whistleblowers to anti-terror laws. Some of these attacks are in seemingly irrelevant fields such as sport. Athletes being singled out to adhere to rules/laws from which the rest of the populace are exempt. Singling out athletes in this way is bad enough but to place a body overseeing these laws that is outside the judicial system is an attack on the freedom of athletes.

A recent case in Australia of football clubs being used as political tools outside the law is of strong concern. The then Australian Labor government, through its Minister for Sport, spoke of ‘the darkest day in Australian sports history’ in order to try to take the focus away from their dismal poll showings. The Australian Crime Commission looked at it and found there was no evidence of anything illegal and decided not to pursue it, however the sports doping body – ASADA -agreed to and received police powers and increased funding to do so. The Essendon and Cronulla football clubs have been attacked by ASADA, the doping body of sport in Australia. ASADA used intimidation and threats to try to get the players to admit they had taken a banned substance. The players refused as they had not taken a banned substance as far as they knew and ASADA had not given them any evidence that they had. According to ASADA it doesn’t matter if you knew it was banned or that someone was giving it to you without your consent or knowledge. You are guilty. You have to prove it didn’t happen and ASDA can go on rumors to charge you.

ASADA tried to get someone to admit they took a banned substance as they had no worthwhile evidence. Footballers from Cronulla agreed and accepted a penalty of insignificance in order to finish the saga which has dragged on for more than 2 years while those at Essendon refused as they knew they hadn’t and wouldn’t accept an irrelevant penalty to get ASADA off the hook.

The important point here is the role of the media in convincing people there was some grievous crime committed and these clubs particularly Essendon should just accept the penalties. This has been the case without virtually any dissent from all journalists and a witch hunt has been happening for 2 years. The fact that so many people have accepted the guilt without question is of concern. Now one official is appealing a court decision that was seen to be not based on law and the media is trying to label them as monsters for pursuing their legal right.

It may seem of little importance, just athletes and drugs; however it is about freedom and if you deny it to any group of people then that can always be applied to anyone or everyone.