Goscomisdat: the Gosudarstvennyi Comitet po delam izdatelstva, poligraphii i knizhnoi torgovli, the Soviet Union’s State Committee for Publishing, Printing and the Book Trade. Goskino and Glavlit carried out similar functions in various branches of arts, except Glavlit also guarded state military secrets. All of them together were state censorship bodies of the USSR, responsible for ideological control of the media.
So it has come to this—we are on the verge of introducing state censorship. The thought sends a shiver down my spine. Unlike many Australians, I have actually lived with state censorship, until I migrated to the West at the age of twenty-eight after being stripped of my Soviet citizenship, and becoming a refugee. In the USSR, political correctness was everything and everywhere. It was in the classroom, in the student auditorium, in the movie theatre, in the library, in the newspaper—censorship was all-pervasive. Everyone knew exactly what could be said and what could not be uttered or even thought about.
Anyone who wanted to publish his work had to take state censorship into consideration. Gradually, self-censorship developed as a result—an author knew what was publishable and what was not. This made the work of Goscomisdat so much easier. The consequences of any lack of political correctness were severe—loss of your job and your livelihood were merely the mildest punishment Soviet power could throw at you. Then it could become progressively more severe, according to the degree of your transgression, until it reached the stage of a long period of “re-education” in the Gulag.
Those of us who were born after the revolution did not realise that we lived under the strictest form of state censorship in the civilised world. Those who remembered the press freedom before the communist takeover kept their mouths shut. They knew what was good for them. The rest of the great unwashed simply did not understand how much information was being withheld from us. That was the information, which, if available to the general public, would enlighten the Soviet populace about the two most terrible secrets of the Soviet Union.
The first secret was that a worker’s life in the West was much better than that of a Soviet one. The second secret was even more terrible—that the country’s leadership was inept, corrupt and incompetent. (That is why the hard Left is so intolerant of a critique of any kind.) Accordingly, no information about life in the West was allowed, except for news about strikes, catastrophes or marches against the Vietnam War. As far as we knew, no Western achievements were worth knowing. We learned about the moon landing several days after the event from a terse fifteen-line paragraph buried at the bottom of the third page of a second-rate newspaper. This insignificant news item was completely overshadowed by a glowing report about kolkhoz milkmaids over-fulfilling their quota of milk production.
When I was a child, my father worked as a boilermaker in a Palace of Culture for railway workers, which was the former Jewish community centre, requisitioned by the Reds. I clearly remember mounds of books, hundreds of them, that he was told to burn. These books were deemed politically incorrect because they were either written by non-persons, had had articles contributed by non-persons, or had photographs of non-persons in them. These photographs were unusual-looking, especially group portraits, because the faces of “enemies of the people” were blackened by felt pens. The trick was, while using a felt pen on the faces of “enemies of the people” one had to be careful not to mark the faces of those still in favour. One wrongly marked face and your family might have to start blacking out your own face from the family album. Subscribers of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia were told to remove the entry on Beria and supplied an entry on the Bering Sea instead. At school we saw portraits of various leaders taken off the walls because they were now “enemies of the people”.
We were in no position to read what we wanted (Doctor Zhivago, for example, was not published until late 1980s), see the movies we wanted (we had no idea about the great Hollywood classics) or listen to the music we wanted (Sergey Rakhmaninov’s music was prohibited because he was an émigré). Foreign radio was jammed, contact with foreigners was virtually impossible; possession of convertible currency was severely punished, sometimes by firing squad. I remember the howling of official propaganda when Alexander Solzhenitsyn published The Gulag Archipelago abroad. The more they tried to convince us that it was a slanderous and indecent book, the more I resented my inability to make up my own mind by reading it myself.
When I arrived in Vienna in April 1978, I spent two weeks in the room without going out, reading books and authors previously unobtainable back in the USSR because of state censorship. It was not reading so much as intellectual gluttony, a satisfaction of intellectual hunger, an assertion of the individual right to choose freely. I will not forget the glorious feeling of freedom which came to me on realising that I, and I alone, now had the right to decide what I wanted to read, listen to and watch.
Naively, it now seems, I decided that from then on I would be in control of what I wanted to engage my grey matter with, that never again would I be told by some party functionary what was good and what was bad for me. I had had it up to my eyeballs—with totalitarianism, communism, materialism, Marxism, and other politically correct isms. I thought that as long as I lived in Australia’s liberal democracy and obeyed the law of the land, I would have the right to be in control of my life’s decisions, right or wrong. That includes reading, listening and watching. It also involves an independent media which is free to publish, limited only by the market and existing laws but unrestrained by censorship.
Now I am not so sure. I feel that this cherished right of mine is threatened; I feel that my right to enjoy the plurality of the free media in Australia is threatened by the proposed introduction of the Australian version of Goscomisdat.
My understanding of Finkelstein proposal is very simple: after the ill-advised and maybe even criminal multiple breach of privacy by the News of the World, the Left decided to use this pretext to advance their totalitarian agenda. As in the USSR, these political hacks do not tolerate any critical appraisal of their activities. That is why they hate the independent media. The Greens, with their hardcore communist cadres, initiated the proposal, which amounts to the introduction of political censorship for the first time in Australia’s peacetime history. Naturally, they cited the need to protect innocent Australians from rapacious, power-hungry and manipulative media magnates.
Using the Trojan horse of protecting the people, the hardcore Left is preparing censorship legislation which threatens the fundamental freedoms of our country.
However, we should not be angry with these people and their modus operandi, any more than we should be angry that sea water is salty or that great white sharks are aggressive—it is their nature. It is in the nature of the hardcore Left to limit and, if possible, to abolish our freedoms in the name of the glorious future they envision. There are enough examples in history to demonstrate this inevitability. They are doing what they are supposed to do according to their belief system—no more, no less. Nothing to be surprised or be angry about.
The question which we, the freedom-loving people of Australia, have to ask ourselves is: What are we going to do about it? Are we going to let it happen?