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Issue #1766      February 22, 2017

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

The renewed Cold War

Capitalist propaganda would have it that the Cold War was begun by the dreaded Commies, determined as they were to overthrow democracy and impose their dictatorship everywhere.

If you define the Cold War as a form of aggression conducted by means of propaganda, espionage and subversion, it actually began in 1917, as soon as it became clear that Kerensky’s capitalist regime in Petrograd had been given the boot by a working people’s revolution. At times the Cold War morphed into a “real” war, a shooting war: in 1918 (until 1922), again in 1938, and most ferociously of course in 1941 (until 1945).

In 1945, US politicians touring Allied forces occupying their sector of Germany, tried to urge US troops to “go on and finish the job” by marching on Moscow. It was too soon, however. The troops they were unsuccessfully hectoring still saw the USSR as not only their ally against Hitler but as the awesome power that had clobbered the bulk of the Nazi war machine.

Capitalism realised that it would have to step up its propaganda if it was to successfully change people’s attitudes from those that they had developed during the war-time anti-fascist coalition. Churchill made his notorious “iron curtain” speech, apparently unaware that he was echoing the words of Josef Goebels, and the Cold War became openly acknowledged. Waging it was ruthlessly stepped up.

After WW2 the Western capitalist powers waged the Cold War against not only the USSR but also against the countries of Eastern Europe and the Communist parties of Western Europe. The latter had risen greatly in public esteem because of their leading role in the war-time anti-Nazi resistance. In Asia and North Africa, Cold War was replaced by actual war to re-establish colonial possessions.

As the colonial system broke down in the face of a growing national liberation movement, the capitalist powers used Cold War strategies to thwart the new developments. When these were insufficient they resorted to outright aggression.

Despite the fact that the capitalist powers were organising military intervention and coups all around the world, their propaganda blithely continued to promote the idea that the Cold War was entirely the work of the “Reds,” masterminded from the Kremlin against the peace-loving West.

In the 1950s, capitalism’s ongoing war against Communism – sometimes hot, sometimes cold – extended into a determined right-wing attack on democratic rights in the developed capitalist countries themselves, under the cloak of “protecting democracy”. The campaign took its name from its most notorious practitioner in the US: Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Although progressives within bourgeois democracy were ultimately able to overcome the excesses of McCarthyism, the Cold War continued unabated, alongside a ruinously costly arms race and persistent recourse by the capitalist powers (principally the United States) to coups and military assaults.

The overthrow of Socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe was the apogee of the Cold War. The long campaign by imperialism found a most effective ally in Mikhail Gorbachev, whose political naiveté saw him connive at aiding the so-called “colour revolutions” that imperialism organised among the trusting population of Eastern Europe, most of whom thought they were going to keep all the benefits of Socialism while somehow adding the freedoms capitalist propaganda was always banging on about. Gorbachev even conspired to dissolve the Socialist USSR despite a national plebiscite voting to retain it.

Gorbachev was succeeded by the venal Boris Yeltsin and opportunism in the USSR ran rampant. Adventurers and fortune hunters who had secured places in the Communist Party and government during Brezhnev’s period, when self-aggrandisement and the pursuit of the good life was actively encouraged, now morphed into would-be capitalists. The leadership of the Young Communist League embraced capitalism with particular enthusiasm.

State institutions and enterprises suddenly became the private property of politicians. The country’s assets were looted by those who were charged with protecting and preserving them. Gorbachev himself seized the Lenin Institute in Moscow as his own private property (although he was later made to give it back.) Overall, in this brief period, the USSR/Russia saw more wealth ripped out of the country and shipped abroad than it lost to the Nazis in the whole of WW2!

The biggest thieves amassed huge fortunes, becoming infamous as “the Russian oligarchs”, and investing their ill-gotten fortunes in the capitalist West. After he had seen off Yeltsin to become Russian president, Vladimir Putin would try to recover some of that stolen wealth but with only limited success.

Holding together

The warriors of the Cold War, of course, thought that the advent of Yeltsin heralded the longed-for break-up of Russia, but Putin, despite his hostility towards the Communist Party (of which he had been an active member), held the country together while reviving many symbols and traditions of the Soviet era (especially in the military).

When a Scandinavian journalist asked Putin why he left the Communist Party, Putin replied: “I never left the Party; the Party left me.” A very interesting response.

The overthrow of Socialism in the USSR was heralded by the spokespersons of the West as signalling “the end of the Cold War”. They even trumpeted that the West had “won” it. But with the failure of Russia to conveniently collapse, as it was intended to do, they hastily revived the Cold War in all its aspects. Russia (and, when required, China as well) replaced the USSR as the enemy and it was business as usual.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin was demonised as everything from a scheming despot to a victim of “Soviet nostalgia”, which is apparently a bad thing. When the people in the Crimea voted overwhelmingly in favour of rejoining Russia in a plebiscite, Putin was – and still is – routinely accused of “annexing” it.

As part of this renewed Cold War, all the old anti-Communist slurs and misinterpretations of history are being revived and trotted out again in the capitalist “news” media. If it is anti-Communist or anti-Russian (or both) it is almost guaranteed a page in one or other of the major bourgeois newspapers, whatever the source.

ASIO’s moles

In Australia, they are particularly fond of “revelations” about the supposed activities of “Soviet spies” in our midst, which an unkind person could characterise as “anti-Soviet nostalgia”. The advantage of stories about intelligence agents is that there is seldom any evidence, let alone proof. All you need is supposition and innuendo. And bourgeois media can provide plenty of that!

In October last year, the publication of The Secret Cold War, The Official History of ASIO, 1975-1989, written by a couple of Canberra academics, John Blaxland and Rhys Crawley, was seized on for a flurry of stories about how Soviet Intelligence had successfully put a mole in the Australian agency and his or her identity was never discovered. Ever since the revelations of the success of Soviet agents Kim Philby and Donald MacLean working within Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), western intelligence services have been paranoid about Soviet moles.

Although Blaxland and Crawley can offer no concrete evidence as to the existence of this supposed “mole” in ASIO, let alone his or her identity, they still assert that “it now appears evident that [Soviet Intelligence] succeeded” in penetrating their Australian counterpart. They glumly conclude: “Thousands of hours of covert surveillance aimed at exposing Soviet espionage operations had been for naught because of the penetration of the Organisation.”

If anyone is surprised by that estimate of “thousands of hours of covert surveillance”, consider this: Aaron Patrick, writing about the official ASIO history in the Australian Financial Review, notes that “the files show that ASIO allocated huge resources fighting intelligence-gathering by the Soviet Union and its satellite states during the Cold War.”

Although we can safely assume that ASIO would brag about any successes it had in getting agents into the embassies of the Socialist countries, even allowing for the necessity of keeping agents’ identities and locations secret, Blaxland and Crawley just as glumly report that here too ASIO was “unsuccessful”.

Patrick notes that their book records that a “series of operations” ASIO planned against the Polish Intelligence Service, centred on their new Canberra embassy which they moved into in 1977, “failed badly – the book doesn’t specify how”. But of course the assumption is that it was the work of the mysterious mole.

This is a convenient assumption, freeing ASIO from responsibility for its various failures, except for the crucial one of failing to identify the actual mole (if he in fact existed).

In another more sober article on this same subject a few days later in the same paper, Brian Toohey observed that Blaxland and Crawley “put great emphasis on the existence of a mole in ASIO, without presenting hard evidence.”

Toohey doesn’t regard the presence of a mole as necessarily damaging. He quotes “a former head of ASIS, Ralph Harry, [who] told me that the success of the former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s policy of detente ‘was greatly assisted by the presence of a senior Soviet bloc agent in Brandt’s office’.”

Toohey, however, has not allowed for the potential benefits of a “mole hunt” to the renewed Cold War.

Next article – Book Review – The Border Wall

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