Every now and then, Twitter throws up some interesting stuff on my timeline. A few days ago, the image below was tweeted by an enthusiastic member of the Labour Party:
Initially, I glanced at it and passed on. However, about a day later, memory of the image came back to me and so I returned to it. The photograph is of the Rt Hon John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and deputy leader of the Labour Party. Officially, he is Jeremy Corbyn’s right hand man. The image is an extremely professional photographic portrait. It is also extraordinarily powerful; and is it this power which brought me back to it for much closer examination – a day later and after having first glanced at it for little more than a split second.
Outwardly, the message is about how the wicked media barons are making difficulties for Jeremy Corbyn. But there is much, much more to it than just that. Let us first consider the written message, as distinct from the portrait.
The words are divided into four statements:
- Jeremy Corbyn is trying to transform society.
- The media is owned by a few powerful people.
- The media are trying to destroy Jeremy Corbyn who is socialist.
- The media are protecting themselves.
So we have a nice little story – in four sentences – of a hero (Jeremy Corbyn) who is battling against huge odds to make changes to society so that it becomes fairer and more democratic. This is a compelling message put across concisely and in neat bite-sized chunks.
Leftist propaganda is usually split into two halves. The first half invokes a victim group of some sort, for whom we are expected to feel sympathy for their plight. The second half invokes hate towards a group that is portrayed as deliberately doing down, punishing or disadvantaging the first group. This process is a kind of emotional dialectic – a thesis and antithesis of oppressor and victimhood. Whilst the sympathy of the Left for the victim group sometimes comes across as strained, contrived or even hypocritical, the hate is expressed in a heartfelt and visceral way. This technique is one of the reasons why a debate with a Leftist nearly always departs from any cool rationality and descends into emotional irrationality and contradiction of terms. Emotions are used in this way because emotions are very, very powerful political tools for manipulation of peoples’ actions. Whole revolutions have been justified using this technique. The current Windrush furore gives us an archetype for the way in which the Left has captured a bureaucratic cock-up and turned it into a conspiracy of wicked, racist Tories.
Given this, the four statements in the image of John McDonnell can now be summarised as: Victim group (Corbyn) – Hate group (media) – Victim group (Corbyn) – Hate group (media). In the first statement, Corbyn is portrayed as heroically battling to change society for the better. In the second, the media are portrayed as being owned by rich people. The third portrays Corbyn as being under attack by the media for his efforts. And the fourth portrays the media as oligarchs attacking poor old Jeremy in order to protect their own power and influence. Notice how the rhetoric of the repetition raises the emotional temperature at each stage. This is an absolute classic of Soviet era propaganda.
Now let us turn to the photograph of John McDonnell.
It is immediately obvious that this is a very professional portrait. The background is black and McDonnell’s sober blue suit blends seamlessly in with the background. He is wearing a nice light blue shirt and a dark blue tie. Not red, you will notice, but blue. His face is turned three quarters to the camera and is lit softly from in front. His chin is slightly raised, to give him the appearance of a determined and decisive man. He is immaculately turned out and raising his eyes towards the horizon, as if seeing the golden future. He could be your favourite uncle. This is the image of an ordered and conservative man (with a small ‘c’) with whom the future of the country can be entrusted.
It is in very stark contrast to this image:
Above: Jeremy Corbyn (Image: Daily Mail)
Admittedly, this one is not an official portrait, but it is a great favourite amongst many people who post political comments on Twitter.
There was something that bothered me about the lighting, posture and that ever-so saintly expression of McDonnell’s. It seemed familiar somehow. But I could not quite put my finger on it until something jogged my memory. After a search, I found the right hand image below. On the left is the image of McDonnell, slightly cropped to show the similarities. Notice how the lighting is almost identical, the dark background to highlight the faces, which are illuminated in exactly the same way. The jaws of both men are firmly set and slightly raised. Both have their eyes raised to the horizon, and both portraits are telling the viewer that these are thoughtful and determined leaders of men.
Above: John McDonnell and Benito Mussolini (Image of Mussolini via Wikipedia)
For those readers unfamiliar with the course of Twentieth Century history, the portrait on the right is of Benito Mussolini, leader (Il Duce) of the Italian Fascists and Dictator of Italy until 1945. Labour supporters may well consider my juxtaposition of images of McDonnell with Mussolini to be unhelpful, but bear with me a little further.
Let us return to McDonnell’s written message.
In the Leftist emotional dialectic explained above, it is a common feature of this exercise to couch the victim group in terms of being helpless or incapable in some way. Thus, our immediate support and sympathy is required to rush to their assistance. This portrayal of pathos and helplessness is sometimes very patronising for the victim group (who may actually not be helpless at all, or they may be easily capable of sorting themselves out). But in order to achieve the Leftist aims, the difficulties of the victim group are exaggerated in order to heighten the contrast between victim and putative oppressor.
In the dialectical rhetoric of the message above, notice that the word ‘trying’ is used three times. It is once applied to the media and twice applied to Jeremy Corbyn. To try to do something is to make an attempt to achieve an objective. This attempt may end in success or failure. In McDonnell’s message, it is implied that society has not yet been transformed, despite Corbyn’s efforts. It is also implied that the media has not yet succeeded in destroying Corbyn. So, a paraphrase of the message might read:
“Jeremy Corbyn is trying [but not succeeding] to transform society…….[The media] are trying [but not succeeding] to destroy a socialist who is trying [but not succeeding] to transfer power from the establishment to the people…..”
In other words, Jeremy Corbyn may be valiant, but he is going to fail. The message is not one which supports Corbyn – it is one which exaggerates his helplessness and impending failure.
The current travails of Corbyn and the Labour Party are mostly bound up with the explosion of antisemitic revelations within the party. Shami Chakrabarti’s 2016 report on antisemitism within Labour, whitewashed the issue and gained her a place in the House of Lords. Now the issue has raised its ugly head with renewed vigour – all the greater for having been suppressed by the Chakrabarti report in the first place.
The Jewish community, on average, tends to support the Labour Party (particularly in London) and there are quite a large number of Jewish Labour MPs. Mostly, these support the moderate end of the party and so are a source of opposition to the Hard Left of Corbyn’s supporters. The moderates (Jewish and non-Jewish) are being threatened with de-selection at the next General Election. There is now an underground battle within the Labour Party which is extremely vicious. At least in part, the antisemitism which is currently convulsing the Labour Party is an attempt to remove a large chunk of the moderate section of the party. These are the thinkers who provide an ideological counterweight to the extreme parts of the party. As such, they represent an obstacle, and so the Hard Left want to remove them.
When the Left are looking to take over an organisation, or even a whole country, they first seek to destroy the leaders and thinkers of those people who oppose them. This leaves a vacuum into which the Left are then able to occupy. In 1940, when the Red Army first invaded Poland, the NKVD applied this principle by rounding up thousands of Polish officers and intelligentsia, executing them and then burying them in a series of mass graves. The most famous of these mass graves is in Katyn Forest. Unfortunately for the Soviets, when the German Army later conquered the whole of Poland, these mass graves were discovered and much Nazi propaganda was made of it. The Soviet Union spent the next forty years denying responsibility and insisted that it was the Germans who did it.
The lessons of Katyn were learned by the Soviet authorities. The principle of removing the leaders and thinkers of the opposition is a highly effective strategy. But if the corpses are left open to view, then this tends to attract criticism. A better plan was to make sure that it was the Soviet enemy’s enemy which did the destruction; thus leaving the Soviets themselves with no blood on their own hands, and able to walk in and take over.
This refined strategy was applied in July 1944 when the German armies were in full retreat in front of the Red Army. As they entered Poland, the Red Army halted at the River Vistula, just to the east of Warsaw. The Soviet airforce was grounded and left the skies to the Luftwaffe. On the 1st of August 1944, the Polish Underground Peoples’ Army rose up against the German forces. For the next 62 days, they fought an extraordinarily heroic campaign against German forces which had been reinforced by the Waffen SS. These had orders from Himmler to kill everyone and flatten the whole city as a lesson for others. Warsaw was almost completely looted and destroyed. At least 65,000 civilians were executed between 5th and 7th August 1944. When the Polish underground army had finally been destroyed by the SS and the Wehrmacht, the Red Army crossed the Vistula and rolled victorious into Warsaw. The SS had done the work of the NKVD for them – and the Soviets took over an exhausted and shattered Poland.
Now let us return once again to John McDonnell’s portrait and message.
Notice that the written message is nearly all about the hapless Corbyn. And yet the photograph is of John McDonnell, who is not mentioned at all in the text. So the subliminal message is this: “Jeremy is having a tough time and he is to be pitied for the failure of his efforts. But good old Uncle John is waiting in the shadows, ready to clean up the mess when Jeremy has gone.” This is a masterpiece of propaganda. Il Duce himself would have been proud of it.
Lest anyone is still in any doubt about McDonnell’s leadership manoeuvres, they need only look down at the bottom left hand corner of the poster to see the little red rectangle which says: “red Labour, red Britain”. McDonnell is not only waiting for Corbyn to fall, he has already unilaterally rebranded the Labour Party (note the lack of the Labour red rose logo) and has ensured that its direction of travel is well to the left.
McDonnel is waiting on the far side of the Vistula. When he eventually crosses the river, he will roll victorious through the rubble of the Labour Party. And when he finally reaches No. 10 Downing Street (as he clearly expects to do) his first target will be the independent press and freedom of speech.