Dear Mr Bagley,
You are editor of the Morning Star, a paper that claims to stand for “peace and socialism.” It is the successor to the old Daily Worker and has close links with the British Communist Party. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its eastern european satellites, the Star has been largely dependent upon the British trade union movement for its funding and survival.
On Saturday September 22 this year the Morning Star published an article attacking the Russian punk-anarchist band Pussy Riot, supporting their imprisonment at the hands of the Putin regime. The content of the article was pretty vile and, frankly, had no place in any self-respecting socialist (or even liberal) publication. Your initial explanation (posted to the blog Tendance Coatsey) was unconvincing:
” The article was presented by the arts team as an alternative viewpoint on the Pussy Riot furore and appeared on our culture pages. The article did not appear particularly controversial in its own right. Its main focus was Pussy Riot and purported US State Department backing.”
The article states, with obvious approval, that the jailing of Pussy Riot “proves [that Russia] … cares for Christ as much as the French care about Auschwitz and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ could only be applied to protect Jews and gays.” It repeatedly and gratuituosly brings Jews into the argument, defends Putin against media criticism, describes Pussy Riot as “viragos” and supports the Orthodox Church’s role in Russian society, even accusing Pussy Riot of “blasphemy.” Now, I’d hardly call that “not … particularly controversial,” Mr Bagley. But maybe your criteria for what is “controversial” in left wing circles are different to mine.
But if that was all there was to it, I’d be (just about) willing to let the matter go, putting it down to a serious error of judgement from a paper whose instincts are evidently less democratic and secular than those of the milieu I move in.
But the content of the article is, in many ways, the least important aspect of this whole business. Even more important is the matter of the author of the piece – one Israel Shamir, a notorious holocaust denier, anti-semite and associate of numerous European neo-Nazi organisations. Surely it should be a-b-c that even in the highly unlikely event that Mr Shamir were to write something entirely unobjectionable, no self-respecting socialist publication should touch it with a bargepole.
Now, a crucial question arises: did the Star know who Mr Shamir is before deciding to publish his piece? You have stated that you and your colleagues did not – which given Shamir’s notoriety (easily revealed by a two-minute Google search) is in itself a damning admission from a publication that claims to be “steadfastly committed to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice.”
Surely the content of the article alone should have set alarm bells ringing?
But it gets worse. It turns out that the article had first appeared in the US magazine Counterpunch and, in that publication, had included a passage that does not appear in the version printed in the Star: “Western governments call for more freedom for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for holocaust revisionists in their midst.” The absence of that sentence in the version the Star printed, raises an obvious question:
EITHER that passage had already been deleted by the time the article reached the Star’s editorial team;
OR it was edited out by the Star itself.
If it was the former, then your explanation / excuse of being unaware of who Shamir is and the nature of his views, is just (but only just) believable. If it is the latter, then clearly you must have had a pretty good idea of just how dodgy Shamir’s views are, yet went ahead and published the piece (albeit in a very mildly expurgated form) anyway. To be frank, neither explanation does you or the Star any credit, but the second (much more likely, in my opinion) scenario is very nearly unforgivable.
I say “very nearly” unforgivable, because a proper, fulsome retraction, apology and explanation, printed prominently in the Star might just about have retrieved the situation. Well, an “apology” of sorts did appear, not particularly prominently, on page 4 of the September 24 edition. It is wholly inadequate :
Clarification over Shamir article in Saturday’s Star.
A NUMBER of you have raised concerns over the decision to reprint an article by Israel Shamir on the Russian band Pussy Riot that appeared in the weekend’s Morning Star.
The paper would like to reassure readers that the piece was syndicated from Counterpunch in good faith without knowledge of the author’s background.
We would like to reiterate the paper’s commitment to publishing writers who reflect and remain steadfastly committed to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice that the paper has campaigned for ever since its establishment.
It remains guided by those goals and will seek in future, wherever possible, to establish the full biography of writers before publishing their work.
In the meantime the Morning Star would like to distance itself from the opinions of the author of the piece, which do not reflect our position or those of the wider movement.
We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused.
This so-called “clarification” is entirely unsatisfactory, fails to address any of the central issues, and actually manages to compound the offence:
- What exactly were the “concerns” and what was the “distress” about Shamir and his article? The Morning Star is silent. The very vivid anger that has been expressed on left-wing blogs and in (unpublished) letters to the Star at his anti-Semitism and far-right opinions is not even mentioned.
- In the same vein: how far does the Morning Star wish to “distance itself from the opinions” of Shamir and precisely what opinions are you referring to?
- If the Morning Star is committed to the “values of anti-racism” and “anti-fascism” why were they unaware of the fascist and racist views of one of the most notorious international propagandists for the far-right, Israel Shamir?
- As numerous people have pointed out, it is hardly necessary to establish “the full biography”of Shamir before realising this: a simple Google enquiry would have done - assuming the staff of the Morning Star have, unlike most well-informed people involved in anti-fascist activity, not heard of Shamir.
“We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused” is the sort of thing that the bourgeoise press prints when they’ve lost a libel case involving a politician’s personal life. It is a wholly inappropriate phrase to use in this context. What I and many others feel is not “distress” but anger.
The ‘clarification’ does not condemn Shamir.
It does not condemn his fascist views or even mention anti-semitism.
It fails to ‘clarify’ anything that has come out in this controversy, except that the “decision” to “reprint” ultimately comes from an arrangement to “syndicate” material from the (dodgy) US publication Counterpunch.
This ‘clarification’ is not just evasive, it is a disgrace – almost as much of a disgrace as the publication of Shamir’s article. Until proper, honest accounting for this shameful episode appears in the Star, I and many other activists will continue to raise the matter and denounce the Star as unfit to represent the British socialist and trade union movement.