Propaganda — Is the European Union Project Messing with Our Minds?
There was an interesting programme on the radio¹ a few weeks ago. It was part of a series which discussed political lobbying. In one episode, however, the presenter moved away from the main topic and instead discussed the related one of political propaganda. A significant part of the programme discussed Edward Bernays, the notorious mind-manipulator, whose writings included Crystallising Public Opinion and Propaganda. He sought to control public opinion and behaviour by tapping into their emotions. He was involved in advertising campaigns and helped the USA to topple the democratically elected Guatemalan government by creating fake reports. He believed, according to the programme, that democracy needed to be controlled by an invisible elite. This presumably means that voters have to be persuaded (brainwashed?) to want what the elite wants, all the time believing that they are merely expressing their own opinions.
I was already aware of Bernays before this programme. However, there was an interesting example given of his type of propaganda which I had not heard of before, namely The Economic League.
Universal adult suffrage in the UK only came about in 1928 when all women were allowed to vote, following suffrage for men over 21 and women over 30 in 1918. (If interested in an account of the struggles to achieve this, check out this website.) For the purposes of this article one interesting quote from there is: “For many people, 19th-century parliamentary reform was a disappointment because political power was still left in the hands of the aristocracy and the middle classes… By the time of the third Reform Act in 1884, Britain was less democratic than many other countries in Europe”.
Universal suffrage obviously created a problem for the Establishment, in that previously they had managed to control things in their interest without needing to consult the majority of the people. Now there was a significant threat to their vested interests, given that the rise of the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement were contemporaneous.
There is a popular expression, if voting changed anything they would ban it. This obviously means that once voting is allowed, from the Establishment’s point of view, steps have to be taken to make sure there is no change to the system. Subtle, or not so subtle, propaganda is the obvious tool.
A group was therefore formed, initially called National Propaganda (apparently when that wasn’t such a dirty word), and was then renamed The Economic League. It was something like a modern think-tank, and sought to ‘educate’ the masses on the virtues of Capitalism and big business, and the need to vote for such a system. Public meetings were held and, according to the programme, the League funded journalists, thus making sure the message was disseminated in the media. Wikipedia says: “In the 20s and 30s the League organised thousands of public meetings and distributed millions of leaflets annually, and began collecting centralised records on communist trade union organisers (some obtained from police files). In 1938 the League estimated that it had held almost a quarter of a million public meetings since its foundation”².
It would be hard to believe that such tactics are no longer used in the modern era. If anything it would be likely that these activities have become much more sophisticated. All this led me to wonder how this type of propaganda is manifesting itself now.
It is incontrovertible that the referendum vote to leave the European Union in 2016 was a terrible shock to the British Establishment and the EU, both of whom badly wanted and still want us to remain. More than three years later this has still not been accomplished, and the population is still being subjected to lots of what may be propaganda about the terrible consequences of a ‘no-deal Brexit’. (The deal currently on offer, rejected three times by Parliament, is in effect a vote to remain, or BRINO — Brexit In Name Only.)
Especially revealing on that point is a speech in 1975 by Peter Shore, Labour Secretary of State for Trade³. This was at the time of the impending referendum on whether to remain in the European Economic Community. The essence of his argument was that the people were told that joining the EEC would bring greater prosperity, but that the reality three and a half years later was vastly increased national debt, so great that he argued it was unsustainable (something obviously in the interests of the banking elites collecting the interest), and that the country was therefore in peril. Since it was clearly untrue that the nation was more prosperous, the argument in favour of remaining had to change. What did it change to? “So the message that comes out is fear, fear, fear. Fear because you won’t have any food. Fear of unemployment. Fear that we’ve somehow been so reduced as a country that we can no longer, as it were, totter about in the world independent as a nation”. Does anyone in the UK find this eerily familiar to the message (propaganda?) we are being fed currently? We are not ‘leaving’, we are ‘crashing out’. We are ‘jumping over a cliff-edge’. There are daily threats of food and medicine shortages, job losses, lorry queues, and so on.
What can we learn from this? Seemingly the UK Establishment will say or do anything to try to persuade us to remain. At the moment, it seems, they are making a pretty good job of it, with large numbers of people attending demonstrations, and remainers endlessly quoting Government (i.e. Establishment) scaremongering reports. (A recent example is the so-called Yellowhammer Report, leaked — how convenient — to the Sunday Times, which predicts a three-month ‘meltdown’ at British ports.)
Why are the two establishments so keen on the UK remaining? Firstly, it must be in their financial interests, otherwise they would not argue so strongly for it. It is not quite so clear whether this prosperity extends (‘trickles down’ is the usual formulation) to the working classes — it doesn’t usually in a capitalist system — who therefore have to be ‘persuaded’ that it is in their interests too. Secondly, the EU is a federalist project which gradually removes national sovereignty and democracy. Universal adult suffrage was won after a long hard struggle. It is therefore no surprise that the ruling elites are so keen to remove it, so that it loses its power, and ensures that the elites make all the decisions. Unfortunately they have managed to persuade many citizens, especially on the left, that this is what they want and that it is good for them.
So, all the arguments in favour of remaining in the EU could be mere propaganda along the lines of the Economic League. The EU may be a similar elitist organisation dedicated to Capitalism, big business and their vested interests, while offering tempting carrots in order to persuade the people to want to remain.
There was a time when the Left understood the true nature of the EU and its ongoing project. The current leader of the Labour Party in the UK is Jeremy Corbyn, a hard-left socialist. Here are some of the statements he has made historically. At the time of the Maastricht Treaty, he said that it takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy, and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers, who will impose the economic policies of price stability, deflation and high unemployment throughout the European community. He later said: “We have a European bureaucracy, totally unaccountable to anybody, powers have gone from national parliaments. They haven’t gone to the European Parliament; they’ve gone to the Commission and to some extent to the Council of Ministers”. Following the Lisbon Treaty he wrote: “The project has always been to create a huge, free-market Europe, with ever-limiting powers for national parliaments, and an increasingly powerful, common foreign security policy”⁴.
In the campaign leading up to the 2016 referendum, however, without any explanation he changed sides and argued for a Remain vote, perhaps under pressure from others within his party. In the opinion of one political website: “Typically, the left-wing argument against the EU and for Brexit consists of lamentations that EU rules prevent the government from renationalising industries, erecting protectionist barriers to trade and entry, or otherwise meddling in the free market. Jeremy Corbyn would be busy making such arguments right now, were it not for his colossal failure of political courage in rolling over to the demands of the die-hard pro-Europeans the moment he became Labour Leader”⁵.
One of Corbyn’s stated reasons for remaining in the EU was that it addressed the overweening power of global corporations and ensured they pay fair taxes. This was a strange claim, given that he had previously accused the EU of supporting tax havens. He now accuses right-wing Conservatives of wanting to turn the UK into an offshore tax-haven. Why prefer one over the other, if they are equally to blame? He was presumably not aware that leaked documents revealed that the outgoing President, Jean-Claude Juncker, who had stated that he would lead the EU in tackling tax avoidance efforts, “spent years in his previous role as Luxembourg’s prime minister secretly blocking EU efforts to tackle tax avoidance by multinational corporations”⁶. So whatever the EU’s stated attitude is to tax havens, they appointed as their President someone sympathetic to the idea, and who thwarted their ambitions in this direction.
It is therefore obvious that Corbyn has always perceived the EU to be a blatantly unapologetic capitalist and elitist organisation. I mentioned Peter Shore earlier. Other famous Labour opponents of the European project were:
- Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party, notably in a speech to his party’s annual conference on October 3rd 1962, at which he revealed his opposition to Britain joining the EEC. Significantly he revealed that a federal Europe was always the goal hidden behind the EEC.
- Tony Benn, who said in a response to a student’s question at the Oxford Union: “When I saw how the European Union was developing, it was very obvious that what they had in mind was not democratic. I mean, in Britain you vote for the government and therefore the government has to listen to you, and if you don’t like it you can change it. But in Europe all the key positions are appointed, not elected — the Commission, for example… And the way that Europe has developed is that the bankers and the multinational corporations have got very powerful positions. And if you come in on their terms they will tell you what you can and cannot do, and that is unacceptable. And my view about the European Union has always been not that I am hostile to foreigners, but that I am in favour of democracy. And I think out of this story we have to find an answer, because I certainly don’t want to live in hostility to the European Union but I think they are building an empire there and they want us to be a part of that empire, and I don’t want that”.
What has happened to the Labour Party since then? Why do they now love the European Union “with a blinkered fierceness with which there can be no reasoning”⁵. Have they merely fallen for the propaganda?
The Labour Party, since it sees the Conservatives as the party of the rich and privileged, seems to think that the EU is a better option. It has been persuaded (brainwashed?) into thinking that the EU is less capitalist, more worker friendly. There are some obvious benefits: freedom of movement, frictionless trade, workers’ rights, food and environmental standards, and so on. This obviously makes the EU seem attractive to the political left. But are these just bribes to keep us sedated while the hidden project of creeping federalism gains pace? A possible analogy is that of fishermen who put tempting bait onto their hooks. The fish are attracted and bite, and are then trapped, and at the mercy of their captors.
Turning now to the right wing of politics, the website quoted above asks the question “what is the left wing case for Brexit?”, and answers “the same as everyone else’s case: democracy and self-determination”⁵. As evidence for that, we can cite the famous Bruges Speech of September 20th 1988 by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, not known for her socialist views. She challenged the quickening pace of European integration, specifically the move towards a central bank and a single currency: “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels. Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country; for these have been the source of Europe’s vitality through the centuries”. It’s not very often that I find myself agreeing with Margaret Thatcher, but on this occasion I’ll have to make an exception.
(At this point perhaps I should make my own position clear, since I’m quoting both left- and right-wing politicians with apparent approval. It is frequently said by the media in the UK today that the divide is no longer right/left, rather leave/remain. That seems to be true, and I consider myself to be a centrist leaver. As evidence I quote the New Declaration of the UK’s Social Democratic Party, which expresses the same sentiments as Margaret Thatcher: “We consider the nation-state to be the upper limit of democracy. Along with the family, we regard it as indispensable to the solidarity of our society and concern for our fellow citizens. We regard supranationalism as a neoliberal ideology aimed at neutering domestic politics and placing the most important issues beyond the reach of ordinary voters. The European Union or any other supranational entity is not — and will never be — a social democratic enterprise”⁷.)
Thatcher is also famous for her response in the House of Commons to the call by European Commission President Jacques Delors for the European Parliament to be the democratic body of the European Community, the commission to be the executive, and the Council of Ministers to be the senate: “No! No! No!” Within a few years she had been removed from office and replaced by John Major, during whose premiership the UK signed the Maastricht Treaty and became a member of the EU. This is seemingly what happens to those who resist the will of the elites. Major was actually her preferred successor, a decision she must surely have come to regret; she presumably wasn’t aware of his intentions.
Pro-EU propaganda continues. The Economic League apparently closed down in 1993, “following a 1990 parliamentary inquiry and further press reporting”². It would seem, however, that its spirit clearly lives on! When will the people wake up?
None of the above is intended to be conclusive, incontrovertible, or watertight, and I’m sure counter arguments can be made. I would welcome well argued responses, observations, and further information from a Remainer point of view.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. Tales from the Lobby, BBC Radio4, July 15th 2019
3. June 3rd 1975, Oxford Union, UK
4. Source, BBC Radio4, World at One, April 14th 2016