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20 Years On. An atypical view reprinted. And a surprise from the BBC. June 2, 2009

Posted by Garibaldy in History, Irish History, Media and Journalism.
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Lalkar 1

As we all know, 1989 saw the collapse of the socialist states in eastern Europe, as well as the Chinese state not collapsing but employing military force against a challenge to its authority. These events are popularly know as the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the memory in the west, based on reporting at the time, is of tanks rolling over and shooting students in the Square. The image above, taken from Lalkar for May/June 2009 (the paper has its own website if anyone wants to follow it up and read the whole thing), is of an article from its August/September 1989 edition that challenged this narrative, accusing the western media of fabrication, and which unambiguously supported the Chinese government. It comes, effectively, from the CPGB (M-L), whose main figure is Harpal Brar, formerly resident in Dublin and of whom more can be read in the Left Archive.

I have posted the above image only because of this story from the BBC’s Beijing correspondent of the time, James Miles. Miles openly states that he and the other western journalists are responsible for the creation of a myth of a massacre in the Square, based on false testimony from locals. He does however state that they got the story generally right. This is on the grounds that violence did take place elsewhere in the city, and that their description of the aims of the protestors were correct.

The whole thing is an interesting insight into the nature of journalism, political progaganda, and the formation of public opinion and memory. Worth thinking about for our own island when we see so much history being falsified and adjusted to current political concerns, especially in the north. At one level, this is fairly harmless, such as when Gerry Adams mistakenly recollects singing a song in gaol that had not yet been released while he was there. At another level, it is a lot more harmful, such as when the discriminatory practices of the unionist regime are whitewashed or when state brutality is covered up or the sectarian realities of many murders and bombings are denied, either by politicians or academics. Competing versions of history will always exist, but they don’t have to be a poison sickening the body politic.

Comments»

1. Jim Monaghan - June 2, 2009

Stalinism never changes. Dion’t they just love repression.

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2. WorldbyStorm - June 2, 2009

Very interesting, although I agree with your overall point I’m not sure though that Brar’s piece is that similar to Miles, not least because Miles and his colleagues might have got details incorrectly but they were operating in a very constrained environment whereas Brar et al are making a purely ideological point based on most likely no first hand knowledge whatsoever and positioned within their worldview (and it’s doubtful that, unlike Miles again, they’d accept they might be wrong in their interpretation of those events in whole or part).

As it happens I’d just arrived in New York during that period, was staying in a hostel and my recollection of it is very hazy indeed.

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3. Paddy Matthews - June 2, 2009

This is on the grounds that violence did take place elsewhere in the city, and that their description of the aims of the protestors were correct.

“Violence did take place” is understating it a little.

What Miles says in the article:

Evidence of a massacre having occurred in Beijing was incontrovertible.

Numerous foreign journalists saw it from widely scattered vantage points.

On the morning of 4 June, reporters in the Beijing Hotel close to the square saw troops open fire indiscriminately at unarmed citizens on Chang’an Boulevard who were too far away from the soldiers to pose any real threat.

Thirty or 40 bodies lay, apparently lifeless, on the road afterwards.

That scene outside the Beijing Hotel alone justified the use of the word massacre. But the students who had told me and other journalists of a bloodbath on the square proved mistaken.”

Now, why exactly a bunch of so-called left-wingers are cheerleading a regime that supervises a brand of crony and laissez-faire capitalism that would be a wet dream for Declan Ganley & Co is another matter entirely.

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4. NollaigO - June 2, 2009

An bfuil Harpal Brar beo fós?

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5. WorldbyStorm - June 2, 2009

Well, there are those who’d wonder precisely what point on the left spectrum Brar operates, so that’s a pretty good question Paddy.

I’d certainly agree that what happened in its totality can, as Miles notes, be described as a massacre.

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6. WorldbyStorm - June 2, 2009

I believe he is NollaigO…

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7. Garibaldy - June 2, 2009

NollaigO,

Cinnte.

Paddy,

You’ll note the piece is quite a short one, and I provided a link to the story for people to read it for themselves. Which is more than I did for the Lalkar piece. Which is three times as long as the image I produced.

WBS,

The reason I juxtaposed the two is precisely because of the point you make about Brar’s reasoning (assuming he wrote the piece, which seems to me almost certain). Brar’s piece would be written off on the basis that you criticise it, but the BBC thing complicates the matter somewhat, and shows that criticism even of something that lots of people think they remember seeing on the TV can be valid. I think that the issue leaves the western media with as many if not more questions to answer than Brar for following his own particular politics on the issue.

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8. WorldbyStorm - June 2, 2009

I see what you’re saying. Actually you could post up the rest… interesting document…

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9. alastair - June 2, 2009

I think that the issue leaves the western media with as many if not more questions to answer than Brar for following his own particular politics on the issue.

Is that question “Was it the Tiananmen Square massacre, or the ‘Streets adjacent to Tiananmen Square massacre'”?

Because on that basis the My Lai massacre is something of a myth too – the killings took place outside the village.

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10. Garibaldy - June 2, 2009

The question is how did so many journalists print stories without checking them? I could have picked, say, some of the more outlandish stories coming out of Kosovo instead. I suspect that there is a predisposition to these things when it is a country seen as alien in culture or politics. As you’ll note from the Jim Cusack post, this is hardly the first time I’ve addressed the theme of journalistic standards.

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11. WorldbyStorm - June 2, 2009

Indeed, but Cusack doesn’t have the excuse that he lives and works in a dictatorship of whatever stripe.

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12. Garibaldy - June 2, 2009

This is true. I don’t think even Tony O’Reily exercises that much control over his employees 🙂

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13. John O'Farrell - June 2, 2009

Some people govern in prose, and with tanks.

Other people react through poetry.

Tiananmen
by James Fenton

Tianamen
Is broad and clean
And you can’t tell
Where the dead have been
And you can’t tell
What happened then
And you can’t speak
Of Tianamen.

You must not speak.
You must not think.
You must not dip
Your brush in ink.
You must not say
What happened then,
What happened there.
What happened there
In Tiananmen.

The cruel men
Are old and deaf
Ready to kill
But short of breath
And they will die
Like other men
And they’ll lie in state
In Tianamen.

They lie in state.
They lie in style.
Another lie’s
Thrown on the pile,
Thrown on the pile
By the cruel men
To cleanse the blood
From Tianamen.

Truth is a secret.
Keep it dark.
Keep it dark.
In our heart of hearts.
Keep it dark
Till you know when
Truth may return
To Tiananmen.

Tiananmen
Is broad and clean
And you can’t tell
Where the dead have been
And you can’t tell
When they’ll come again.
They’ll come again
To Tiananmen.

Hong Kong, 15 June 1989

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14. alastair - June 2, 2009

The question is how did so many journalists print stories without checking them?

I’d imagine that they reported what they saw, what was related to them by plausible witnesses, and were in position to subsequently verify very little, given that the army had cleaned up and locked the square down by dawn, and the Chinese state wasn’t exactly falling over themselves to shed light on events.

And journalism in conflict has always been less than forensic, irrespective of any issues of ideology, propaganda, or the pressure to file a story ahead of the competition. Fog of war and all that.

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15. Vabian - June 3, 2009

On the subject of Maoists, didn’t the CPI(M_L) infamously cheer on
Pol Pot in the 70s?

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16. WorldbyStorm - June 3, 2009

That I didn’t know. It sort of sounds right, but are there any texts that support it?

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17. Dr. X - June 3, 2009

There used to be a Belfast Prod Maoist who posted on the urban75 board, who claimed to still be in a possession of a 1970s t-shirt hailing the Khmer Rouge.

And people say the Protestant working class can’t be won to progressive left politics.

‘The world is full of leaders,
You can see them everywhere.
Short men with fat arses,
And their tanks in Tiananmen Square’.

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18. Tim Von Bondie - June 3, 2009

It was BICO that supported Pol Pot

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Vabian - June 3, 2009

According to Wikipedia, ICO – B&ICO also supported the
crushing of the Prague Spring as well:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_and_Irish_Communist_Organisation

I don’t care how much they scream at Roy Foster nowadays, I
can’t trust a group with a past like that.

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19. Dr. X - June 3, 2009

>>>BICO that supported Pol Pot

Unsurprising, really.

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20. Jim Monaghan - June 3, 2009

Brar headed a group inside Scargills SLP. He runs something called the Stalin Society. Housemans in Londons has a selection of the nonesense. I am told he is personally charming. Mind you the gulag is always the same whether the guards have charm or not. Closer to home there were many apologists for repression. I remember when Solidarity was banned the difficulty of getting support for a picket of the Russian embassy.
I suppose the North Korean fan club will welcome the stable succession of the grandson.I remebber the praise for Dubchek when the same Left politician would not have lifted a hand for hime while he was being repressed.

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21. Vabian - June 3, 2009

Johann Hari has a interesting article on the Stalin Society and
Scargill here:

http://www.johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=155.html

One of Scargill’s associatiates, Royston Bull, set up a small sect
centred around the “Economic and Philosophic Science Review ”
magazine. Bull seems to be mainly notable for his hysterical
homophobia.

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22. NollaigO - June 4, 2009

It was BICO that supported Pol Pot .
Have you got a source for this?
The Wikipedia article referred to above has no reference to this. Also Wikipedia is a very unreliable source (e.g. describing Gery Lawless as a Saor Éire leader when he was not even a member).
Bob Purdie’s pamphlet, reproduced earlier this week in CLR, has interesting observations on BICO. It noted that their analytical methods were similar to Kautsky’s. BICO subsequently published various writings of Kautsky including an article by Kautsky on Ireland. Bob described the development of their political differences with Maoism prompted by simplistic articles in Chinese publications on the political crisis in the Six Counties. Shortly after they supported Tariq Ali in a polemic with British Maoists on the seccession of Bangla Desh from Pakistan. Hence I am sceptic about the claim that they supported Pol Pot even allowing for their contrarian politics.

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Starkadder - June 18, 2009

I found this link from a US Trial which alleges:

“Indeed the IMG gave its support to a small and exceptionally violent “Marxist commando group,” the SAOR Eire, which was headed by Gery Lawless, a member of the IMG.”

http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/cointelpro/law/swp642FSupp1357.htm

I’m no expert on Lawless or SE, but I suspect if such a statement
was made in a court of law then it’s probably true.

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23. Vabian - June 4, 2009

NollaigO, Wiki gives the Irish Times as the source for the future B&ICO’s support for the Czech invasion, so I assume that particular reference is correct. As for alleged CPI(M-L) or B&ICO support for Pol Pot, it was a rumour I heard about the former organisation, but I couldn’t give a reference. I was hoping someone here could clear it up.

Does anyone know what happened to David Vipond and Rod
Eley?

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24. Starkadder - June 11, 2009

Vabian-I searched the IT archive in the library today, and there’s no
mention of David Vipond’s activites after 1975. His antics seem
to have passed into Trinity folklore though.

Rod Eley was head of the CPI(ML) when it dissolved a few years ago. No idea what he’s doing now either.

Maybe we should start a “Where are they now?” section. 😉

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25. The Irish Left Archive: Ireland One Nation, Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), 1974 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - July 6, 2009

[…] of refugees from Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (and which we’ve mentioned previously). The genesis of the CPB (M-L) was in a split in 1968 led by longtime CPGB member Reg Birch to a […]

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26. Jim Monaghan - July 6, 2009

I hear a mention of Vipond. He was based in Belfast I think in the 80s?. He had got involved with Irish traditional music. I was told as a way to connect with the Nationalist masses.

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27. EamonnCork - July 6, 2009

Vipond stood in the Monaghan by-election in November 1973 and got 175 votes. It was a somewhat bold decision to run, given that Labour had only managed to get 461 votes in that year’s general election. However it did entitle him to a party political broadcast during which he memorably excoriated various running dogs and lackeys of the capitalist system. Or so my father used to tell me. He saw the broadcast in the pub while under the weather and wondered for a second if there had been some kind of coup.
Mention of BICO makes me note that when the two gardai, John Morley and Henry Byrne were shot dead after a bank robbery in Ballaghaderreen in 1980, one of the gunmen Colm O’Shea was described by the Gardai as a member of the CPOI. However the Starry Plough described him as a member of BICO. I’ve also seen him mentioned as an IRSP member but at the time the Gardai said this wasn’t correct.

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28. Crocodile - July 6, 2009

Google shows a David Vipond as a trade union leader in British Columbia, Canada. Same man?

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29. WorldbyStorm - July 6, 2009

A Stalinist coup in 1973… hmmm… although on second thoughts…

Meanwhile, was O’Shea a member of BICO? Does that sound right?

Can’t think that it would be Crocodile, but I’m often wrong…

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30. EamonnCork - July 6, 2009

Doesn’t seem right to me either, but it’s just something I came across. The antecedents of the guys involved are kind of confused anyway. If it’s wrong, I didn’t mean to cast any kind of incorrect aspersion on BICO.

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31. Ferenka Fred - July 6, 2009

He was a former member of BICO.

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32. Jim Monaghan - July 6, 2009

“Indeed the IMG gave its support to a small and exceptionally violent “Marxist commando group,” the SAOR Eire, which was headed by Gery Lawless, a member of the IMG.”

You would have a touching faith in American Justice if you beleived this.
The IMG had illusions in Saor Eire as a sort of Rev. socialist equivalent of the Provos and Officials. The group was mainly old republicans from the 50s.
They robbed banks but so did others. For the main part I beleive they were sincere if mistaken on militarism. They were no worse than the republican alternatives. Lawless would have known some of them but I would guess that is all. A number of them were in London in the same milieu as Lawless.There was a major effort by the state to hang some of them for killing Gardai. If this had happened there would be a gate open to do the same to many, many others.The campaign against this wassupported by a very broad milieu from Goulding to the Provos and beyond.
I don’t think any of them are active in politics any longer. There was a commoration for Maureen Keegan ( a member who died of cancer) a few years ago which I attended.
They are a footnote in Republican History. Republicanism has always had many splinter groups who think they can spark a revolution by example.
While not excusing their mistakes I have no doubts about the integrity of most of their members.

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33. Starkadder - July 6, 2009

Thanks for explaining that Jim. I wans’t fully aware of the role
of Saor Eire. So I take it whil Lawless knew members of SE,
he was never a member of it?

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34. EamonnCork - July 6, 2009

On the subject of the IMG, is there an extant linear descendant of the group the way the SP can be traced back to Militant and the SWP to the Young Socialists. And is there any trace left of Gerry Healy’s organisation? I just finished reading David Widgery’s, very interesting, the Left In Britain 1956-1968 so I’m fascinated as to where all this energy ended up. For that matter, what happened to the Revolutionary Communist Party, you could hardly move in London in the eighties without seeing a copy of their paper Living Marxism.

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35. Starkadder - July 6, 2009

The Revolutionary Communist Party turned into the very
strange Spiked Online:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutionary_Communist_Party_(UK,_1978)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiked_Online

I think there are small fragments of Healy’s WRP around the
place:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workers%27_Revolutionary_Party_(UK)

On another topic, I wonder what happened to the former members
of Revolutionary Struggle? Nothing’s been heard from them since
the mid-80s, so I presumed they’ve disbanded.

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