I first intentionally broke the law as a left-wing political activist in the late 1960s, when I was a student at high school. Armed with a bundle of copies of a banned pamphlet, which from memory was called either 'US War Crimes in Vietnam' or 'North Vietnam: an eye-witness account', I distributed the banned material to those among my fellow students whom I knew, or felt, were thinkers.
The pamphlet had been banned under the Obscene Publications Act (from memory) and I was worried about being caught and facing the embarrassment of arrest for distribution of 'obscene literature'. To young blokes in their mid-teens, 'obscene literature' was something other than images of napalmed women and children.
A couple of years later at university, I - and other young communists - expected, and DEMANDED, the right to freely distribute the pamphlets, leaflets, and off-set-printed newspapers that we were publishing at frenetic pace.
"Censorship should be resisted in all its insidious forms. We should be vigilant of the gradual erosion of our freedom to know, to be informed, and make reasoned decisions in our society and in our democracy" - from 'Smash fascism!' leaflet, published by the Red Left group, Melbourne, 1970.
If you didn't blink at the above quote, from the 'Red Left' group in 1970, then that's because the sentiment expressed is precisely what you would expect from a 'Red Left' group in 1970. It is what those of us on the left actually believed back then. The quote, however, is not from a leaflet: the 'Red Left' group is fictitious. The words are those of Lachlan Murdoch in his 2014 'Keith Murdoch Oration' in Melbourne.
Censoriousness is yet another indicator of the move to the Right in Australia's political culture. In common with the C19th Prussian ruling class, who wanted to ban publication of anything offensive to religion or morality, in C21st Australia the Labor Party, the Coalition and the Greens have been all for allowing the state to decide what is offensive in a publication and what isn't. And, like the Prussian state, they supported a body to ensure that only 'proper' and 'accurate' content is published. In Australia, the previous government - with delightful Orwellian sensibility - called this the 'Public Media Interest Advocate' (PMIA). After all, the masses - you know, the "motive force of history" - cannot be trusted. Ah, what would they know?! Fortunately, the PMIA was defeated.
When individuals and groups self-identifying as 'left-wing' support censoriousness, the notion of a pseudo-left comes into play. Opposition to press freedom certainly has nothing in common with Marxism or a Marxist-influenced Left.
Karl Marx's first political activism was prompted by the issue of press censorship and he believed there could be no progress without freedom of the press.
Among his rich legacy of revolutionary thought and writing are these words against censorship; perhaps among the finest ever written on the topic:
The free press is the ubiquitous vigilant eye of a people's soul, the embodiment of a people's faith in itself, the eloquent link that connects the individual with the state and the world, the embodied culture that transforms material struggles into intellectual struggles and idealises their crude material form. It is a people's frank confession to itself, and the redeeming power of confession is well known. It is the spiritual mirror in which a people can see itself, and self-examination is the first condition of wisdom.
Struggle against censorship was a big issue in Australia in the 1960s and the left played an important part in opposing it.
In his oration, Lachlan Murdoch makes some important points. For instance, he understands how the new technologies - Skype, Facetime, Twitter, Facebook, Buzzfeed, Tumblr, Instagram - have a liberating potential in the sense that everyone can be a publisher or a reporter. 'Every citizen a journalist!' - Sounds like something Mao might have said.
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