The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, July 16, 2004

Sexing-up the dossier

A few years ago, when I was a computer programmer at Edinburgh University, I went to a meeting where two members of the SPGB were putting the case for socialism to a student society called, I think, Third World First, and dedicated, as far as I could see, to the promoting the kind of delusions (trade bad, aid good) that have done so much to keep the Third World third.

After Brian and Matt, the two Socialists, had put their case for the immediate global abolition of the market, some Frequently Asked Questions came up. One of them was: 'Who will do the dirty work?'

Some well-meaning sap in the audience - it may have been me - gave an earnest exposition of the Frequently Delivered Answer: that lots of the dirty work could be automated, that the objectionable thing about dirty work wasn't the dirt but the social stigma, etc. (You can find the rest of it in Bebel.)

'Ah,' said Brian, sounding disappointed. 'I've always thought it would be Matt.'

In the same spirit, I can now exclusively answer the question of who was responsible for distorting the intelligence from Iraq. It was me.

At least, I started it. I set the ball rolling.

Many years ago, when I was a postgrad at Brunel University, I and a Kurdish exile and an Irishman drafted an article for the student paper, Le Nurb. Control of Le Nurb rested on who had seized the means of its production - a golf-ball typewriter, some sheets of Letraset, an X-acto knife and a jar of paste - that week, so its editorial line fluctuated wildly from Tory to Trot to Anarchist to Young Liberal.

That week, it was Trot. The article I was drafting was based on a telephoned report from Iraqi Kurdistan to our Kurdish exile friend. (The Kurds, then as now, needed all the friends they could get.) An official demonstration in Sulimaniyah, under the slogan 'The Kurds are Ba'athist!' had turned into an angry anti-regime demonstration, under the slogan 'The Kurds are hungry!' (It was a pun in Kurdish.)

I transcribed all this.

'"... which could only be put down by the use of troops,"' added my Irish friend.

'You can't say that,' said the Kurdish guy. 'I have no information about the use of troops.'

'Oh come on,' said the Irish guy. 'You think there could be a demonstration like that, in Sulimaniyah, and it wouldn't be put down by troops?'

'Well ...' said the Kurdish guy, 'perhaps ...'

'There you go,' said the Irishman.

Reader, I wrote it, and Le Nurb published it. A couple of weeks later that article was lifted, with permission, by the much more widely read Militant, and shortly thereafter Militant's article was excerpted - imaginary troops and all - in the even more widely read Intercontinental Press. I don't know how many people who are now Labour MPs read either of these journals in their youth, but I'd hazard more than a few. How many minds were changed, how many opinions hardened, by that fictitious fusillade?

None, in all probability. But the lie still makes me blush.


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