Wednesday, 8 June 2022

From Comrade to Renegade

I've never understood it myself, but left and liberal journalists paying fealty to and fancying themselves the next George Orwell are ten a penny in British politics. Perhaps it's his prose, which he famously likened to being as transparent as glass. Or his reportage, of which Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Homage to Catalonia are stand out examples of excellent journalism. Or might it be the novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, who've left indeligble marks on English letters and the political imaginary?

Paul Mason has seemingly approached Orwell's example from another direction: by looking to collaborate with the security services to take down his opponents and critics on the left. In a bundle of documents leaked to The Grayzone, we have emails and a crude network relief supposedly demonstrating the relationship between the Russian and Chinese states, websites, organisations and politicians, and the constituencies they appeal to.

This is obviously a grotesque smear, and one not without consequences. There are organisations that happily apologise for the Kremlin and Beijing, but there are plenty of people and outfits on the list that do not. Tribune, Young Labour, Jeremy Corbyn and the other named left MPs, and Novara are anti-Putin and opposed his invasion of Ukraine. And even for those who are Putin adjacent, do they not have the right to peddle their politics free from the interference of the state and MI5 cosplayers? The leaked materials are setting up leftists to be on the receiving end of potential vigilante action. And need we mention the recklessness and racist stupidity of linking the black and Muslim communities to the influence of outside powers?

How did Mason pass from his membership of Workers Power to the BBC and Channel 4 News to left celebrity journalist to apparently begging to be of service to this country's spook establishment? It's a spectacular collapse that puts other passages to the right to shame. Only having met him the once when we shared a platform with Chris Williamson (how times change) at Derby Transformed in 2018, I can only comment on the politics of his trajectory. What made Mason an effective broadcast journalist wasn't just a talent for making complex topics simple, as per his coverage of the 2008 crash and the aftermath, or his personal courage when he live broadcast from Gaza during the Israeli bombings of 2014, but the fact working mainstream outlets disciplined him. The tension produced by performing neutrality and impartiality in these circumstance were, for him, a productive one and helped Mason win a deal of respect in the left and labour movement. While not overtly leftwing, he did give due respect and fairness to those he interviewed and reported on. But this wasn't just a case of "one of us" making it big in a hostile environment. His books, particularly Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere and Postcapitalism were well received.

After C4 News he returned to activism, using his platform to promote Corbynism while pursuing his own journalism projects. This is where the problems started. Freed from contraints, the throughtful and nuanced Mason of old rapidly gave away to a forceful and bombastic character that enjoyed browbeating allies as much as opponents. The trolling of Progress conference in 2017 was good for a laugh. But the same uncompromising and often uncomprehending treatment was meted out to comrades too. As the contradictions within Corbynism sharpened, especially among the membership and supporters over Brexit, Mason dropped into the delicate tensions with all the finesse of a 100 lb bomb. He waged the war for remain in his characteristic manner. Aligning politically with a section of the establishment, I suppose it wasn't much of a shock when he came out for Keir Starmer in the post-Corbyn leadership contest, and has stuck doggedly to him since. As he memorably put it, "If you don't think KS will advance the class struggle you're possibly not understanding social democracy correctly from a Marxist viewpoint."

Since then, Mason's politics, which he maintains are still anti-capitalist, have merged seamlessly with the traditional positions of the Labour right on foreign affairs. The invasion of Ukraine has seen him elevate NATO to the status of a fetish and an organisation whose existence can no longer be questioned. The only difference between Mason and Starmer on Labour's position on NATO is Mason pushes it with the zealotry of a true believer. He sees Ukraine as the frontline in a tripartite world divided between Russian and Chinese imperialisms, and the NATO alliance of liberal democracies. The war in the Donbas is the war for liberty and freedom, and NATO our shield against the threats from the east.

Plenty of people have made not dissimilar journeys to the right, but seldom do they express a desire to turn cop and police the movement they've left behind. If you're looking to entertain a good faith explanation for this, Mason's superficial and shaky snapshot of international relations means the West are at war with two authoritarian rivals. No quarter can be given to those who might straight up support their machinations, equivocate, or even bring a bit of nuance to analysing tensions between the great powers. What is more likely is the logical culmination of a personal I-know-best politics desperately craving to put pay to his opponents by psyopping and using dirty tricks to drive them out of politics, leaving the field of "permissible" radicalism to decents like Mason. Or this is one hell of a differentiation strategy to show those on the Labour right he's desperate to court that he's one of them, and is happy to traduce, libel, and expose leftists to danger to prove this.

This is the final straw for Mason. There's no coming back from this. His passage from comrade to renegade is completed.


Jim Denham said...

I hold no brief for Mason, but what the hell are you doing giving any credence whatsoever to the red-brown 'Greyzone' apologists for Putin and Assad fan Blumenthal?

Phil said...

Surely you're not so degenerate that you think the police should be called on them?

Graham said...

Newer seen the Grayzone before your article.
In now way would I call for police action against them but I do wonder about the politics and funding behind the site.
Has the feel of the various "anti mainstream media" sites that sprung up during the pandemic - an alternative version of the world in which those supporting Ukraine are Nazis or agents of the US intelligence services.

SimonB said...

Calling the cops rather than standing up for yourself is such a tell.

Jim Denham said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but where, exactly does Mason call for the police to do anything? Even assuming (and it's a big assumption) that this Greyzone material is genuine. And I'm sure the spooks are fully aware of who is - and who isn't - a security threat without the need of any help from Mason.

McIntosh said...

Doesn't Pau Mason now want to be a Labour MP? It seems as if he is seeking to ingratiate himself with the Labour machine which chooses candidates, and make himself 'Mail' and 'Express' proof. So when his trotskyism and Corbynism is trumpeted he can show he is a new man, safe and security conscious, who will sing the national anthem.
I suppose the renouncement usually comes after they become MPs - Gordon Red Paper, James Maxton- Brown, Neil - how green is my valley -Kinnock, Alistair - Edinburgh Council firebrand - Darling, but times have changed and the ability to become a candidate when Starmer thinks you might unsettle constituents has past.
He may well argue it is not him but his critics that are the renegades even if his rhetoric matches General Truss in seeking to drive the Ruskies into the sea.

Ken said...

I’m puzzled why the security state might find a diagram from a leftist, or former leftist to tell it who is who. Haven’t we be reading the Spycops inquiry? Vegetarian environmentalists with embedded “Special Squad” police spies and others oppositional groups or movements with spies living with them and reporting on them. And, why no comment from Mason as far as I can see?

Old Trot said...

In fact the late period, Cold War, collaboration of George Orwell with the security services to grass on his Stalinism-supporting Communist and fellow traveller Left Wing friends , is very well documented. George Orwell was though , siding with a Western Imperialism which it could charitably be argued, was far preferable (for those living under the Western Imperial heartland bourgeois democracies at least (rather than in the then still large British Imperial colonial territories then engaged in liberation struggles of course), than the undoubtedly mass murderous stalinist dictatorships of the then Soviet Empire.

Paul Mason, though, doesn't seem to grasp that the Cold War is over, and that perversion of socialism, ie, totalitarian Stalinism, is actually dead as a mass ideology (China is today a hybrid authoritarian dictatorship State-led but emerging ever more as a bourgeois conventional capitalist state, with more billionaires on its 'Communist Party' Central Committee than the US ever had in its Congress) seems, not just recently, but in a steady political slide to the Right, over the last few years - centred around an extreme love for the EU , and an obsessive fear of that ramshackle , gangster oligarch-run remnant of the old Soviet Empire , the Russian Federation - a corruption-infused state with a defence budget similar to France. A far cry from the huge military, and ideological, power and reach of the Soviet Union and its huge Warsaw Pact !

Mason seems to be angling for a safe seat as a Labour MP in his current manic attacks on his ex comrades on the Left - but his overall career does leave a big question mark over what his real identity and role has been. He has a music degree not an economics degree, and started out as a music teacher . Then he worked on numerous , non economic, magazines. Then, despite being a long term member of a supposedly Far Left Trot grouplet he pops up as Economics Editor of one of the key upmarket ideological nightly propaganda news tools of the BBC, ie, Newsnight ! No 'positive vetting' for Mason apparently ! Mason's entire career is very strange and decidedly dodgy , so it is no surprise that he played a major duplicitous media role in destroying Jeremy Corbyn and promoting the Corbyn-destroying Remain and 2nd Referendum policy shift for Labour in 2018 to 2019 - and is a staunch promoter of that other long time Deep State agent, Keir Starmer.

Jim Denham, in contrast, is merely a childishly naive uncritical purveyor of the nowadays sad, degenerate, politics of that tiny, but relatively influential , Trot grouplet (particularly in the leadership of the rump of Momentum), the AWL . I think that the 'Greyzone' is towards the more conspiraloon part of the radical Left social media in some of its reporting , but the expose of Mason and his now complete collapse into being a witch hunter of the radical Left and wannabe Right Labour MP, seems to be quite true. The message, if true, as this one seems to be, cannot be simply dismissed by attacking the messenger, Denham.

Anonymous said...

For the simple and - even at the time of your post - obvious reason that Mason released a statement in which he conspicuously failed to deny it.

Anonymous said...

It seems that Mason, like Denham, has followed the example of Max Schactman and taken the well-trodden neocon path from Trotskyism to the worship of Western Imperialism. How cliched.

Blissex said...

«Haven’t we be reading the Spycops inquiry? Vegetarian environmentalists with embedded “Special Squad” police spies and others oppositional groups or movements with spies living with them and reporting on them.»

Informers are *very* common and in many workplaces I guess around 2%-5% of employees are management or security service informers (I guess that in some "important" places like the BBC etc. they are 10% and even 20%). Among many examples:
T Benn (UK), 2003: “John Reid, the Leader of the House, had said that rogue elements in the security services had tried to attack the Government, which I think is a silly thing for him to have said, because security services know all about everybody and they would be quite ready to bring out scandal on anyone.”
“The dossier also claims:
* The shadowy Force Research Unit (FRU) had a file on suspected rogue gardai prepared to pass information to the IRA and act as its agents. MI5 also had a network of agents with the Garda.
* The IRA had a network of informants in public agencies such as social security offices and vehicle licensing departments.
* One in four IRA members was an agent, rising to one in two among senior members.”
“Do people believe for one second that the security forces are not involved in dark practices?” he said in a national newspaper interview. “We found out just a couple of years ago that the chair of my union then, the Transport and General Workers Union, was an MI5 informant at the time that there was a strike taking place that I personally, as a worker, was involved in”, he added. “(In) 1972, I was on strike for six weeks. And 30 years later it comes out that the chair of my union at that time was an MI5 informant.”
Ben Judah, "This is London", 2016. page 58
“The boys tell me there are informers wherever there are Muslims. But they say no informers do it for free: there are some who do it for the passports, some who do it for English lessons, but that anyone will do it for a council flat — all you have to do is call M15 and answer their questions. Who went to Syria? We raised what money?
They come in themselves sometimes, the watchers, into the basement mosques, and the shisha bars, with little leaflets explaining what the law is and what they have a right to request. They wink at the owners. We know who has right to remain and who doesn’t in the family. We know who is here illegally. So, if anyone we are looking for comes in we are going to hear from you. OK?”

Sometimes it gets a bit too much:
“The FBI infiltrated Liberation News Service (LNS), a New Left version of the Associated Press, using disinformation to make LNS seem an FBI front, and set up a phony newspaper to hire young radicals in order to spy on them. Following a lawsuit by the SWP, it was revealed that an organization with 2,500 members had been infiltrated by 1,600 informers - thus actually strengthening the group for a time, one could reasonably suppose.
At one point, according to David Cunningham’s 2004 book There’s Something Happening Here: The New Left, The Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence, about 6 percent of Klan members were informers, including some of the top leaders.”

The surveillance state did not begin with computers...

Anonymous said...

I've read this twice and I can't work out what you think Mason has done wrong. To be clear, I don't mean I don't know why what you're alleging is wrong. I can't tell what you're alleging.

Anonymous said...

Mason = Don Segretti - focus on the overall

JN said...

"...a crude network relief supposedly demonstrating the relationship between the Russian and Chinese states, websites, organisations and politicians, and the constituencies they appeal to."

If Mason has anything to do with producing that chart (which he doesn't seem to have denied), then he has lost every last shred of credibility. That is some extremely reactionary, paranoid, racist, McCarthyite nonsense right there.

It is interestingly bizarre though, I'll give him that. For example, what influence does he imagine FRFI has over the "black community"?!