I Went to a Stalinist Free-Speech Protest to Defend Russia Today from Natwest

It was all very confusing.

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Oct 19 2016, 10:19am

The problem with official addresses is they're often more ceremonial than useful.

This, for instance, is the official home address of NatWest in the UK:

Just up by Liverpool Street station. A few blocks down from it are actual offices containing hundreds of NatWest employees. But it is to this door that the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) swarmed on Tuesday afternoon. The CPGB-ML are a small Stalinist sect on the outer reaches of the far-left, formed by splitting from the Socialist Labour Party, because SLP leader Arthur Scargill refused to support socialist utopias such as North Korea.

Unfortunately, NatWest were waiting for them:

The banking system in general is the sworn enemy of the hardened Marxist-Leninist. But NatWest in particular has been singled out because of what they've done to poor RT. The cable news network formerly known as Russia Today has been at the centre of a bizarre saga this week that may still have a few turns left to run.

The story begins on Monday, with a letter on NatWest letterhead, produced by RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan on Twitter. It announced that "after careful consideration" banking services were being withdrawn for the client concerned. "Long live freedom of speech!" Simonyan harrumphed.

Clearly, whatever your views on RT's output, using back doors to pull down the shutters on news organisations is just not on. For a start, it's just so... Russian.

Red Youth – the youth wing of the CPGB-ML – put it better:

It cannot be considered a coincidence that this attack coincides with the US-UK ruling class escalation of conflict with Syria, at a time when Russia is the main backer of the democratically elected Syrian government headed by Dr Bashar Al-Assad, and RT is exposing the truth about the Anglo-American dirty war on Syria. Not least because the British state is the major shareholder and effectively owns and operates RBS (of which NatWest is a subsidiary).

The letter signed off by stating that the decision was final; that no discussions would be entered into. Yet, 24 hours later, NatWest had decided to reverse its position. Stranger still, it turned out that this letter wasn't actually about RT's official bank account, but that of a supplier.

Equally confusing is that by standing up for the Russian perspective, the CPGB-ML is effectively choosing to side with the very definition of oligarchical-kleptocracy. But for the modern communist, my enemy's enemy is very often my friend:

"The thing is," says Steve Cook, Corbyn look-alike and key apparatchik of the CPGB-ML. "Russia is capitalist without being imperialist."

What does that mean?

"Well, imperialism is the stage of capitalism where you no longer export products, you export capital."

What, like rich Russian oligarchs buying up large tracts of London?

"That's not systemic."

Nor is it systemic, apparently, when Gazprom or various Kremlin-controlled Russian parastatals do it. But while Russia is apparently non-imperialist-capitalist and therefore an inert gas to the Marxist dialectic, there is no confusion here between the Russians and the message RT is sending the world.

"It's not because we think Russians are socialists, but because they defend the Assad government in Syria."

For such avowed non-imperialists, though, they do seem to be grabbing lots of small bits of large countries?

"Ah. I can explain. In the Ukraine, you wouldn't be allowed to fly the Communist flag. This, here, would be illegal."

It turns out Communists are free speech absolutists. In fact, if I were an Estonian, I'd be letting the red flag fly proud right now. It's possibly the only defence against little green men with guns turning up to "protect the rights of Russian-speaking ethnic minorities".

The Communists, free to do so – unlike in the flag-circumscribed hellhole of Ukraine – fly their banners above the faces of the early rush hour commuters, the usual bunch of bankers who seem utterly impervious to the liberation theology they're being blasted with.

And would you know, RT's spin-off sister Sputnik News have turned up to cover today's event. Sadly, aside from me, that's pretty much it for press. The BBC's MSM types were clearly off fabricating more Syrian government chemical warfare, as RT had accused them of, before hastily retracting when Ofcom got involved – to say nothing of the hot water RT got into when it decided to broadcast allegations that the Ukrainian government was involved in a genocide in the east of the country, without giving it a proper chance to respond.

Of course, it's regulation-strength ironic that the allegations they make against British officialdom could land them a spell in chokey in Russia, where "insulting a government official" is a crime that has been used to jail numerous journalists. As if anyone needed reminding, Russia presently ranks 148th in the world for press freedom. There have been 56 work-related journalist murders since 1992, and The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that "the perpetrators nearly always enjoyed impunity".

A double-lashing of irony can be found in the statement of Russia's Information and Press Department on the NatWest saga. "If this is true, it is a crude violation of the freedom of speech and the press on the part of 'one of the oldest democracies in the world', as the British people call themselves." The statement didn't find time to mention that, in 2014, Russia introduced a law aiming to restrict foreign ownership stakes in Russian media assets to 20 percent by early 2017 – very much the sort of interference the RT allies are complaining of.

Still, even despite the giddying hypocrisy, the same lens of "my enemy's enemy is my friend" can be applied as much to most people's gut feeling: that RT doesn't deserve to be bullied off the UK stage. If, of course, that is what's happening. It could just as easily be a Surkovian double-triple bluff. When dealing with Russia, reality warps and folds pretty rapidly beneath the weight of Kremlin's stout "counter-narratives".

Today's protest is a bit of a bust, but there may yet be one man with the power to save RT for all time. Steve is an old warrior for CPGB-ML, and, it transpires, an old friend of North London's premier ex-Trot, Jeremy Corbyn. He was with him just on Friday, at a birthday party for another fellow comrade. So does Jez watch a lot of RT?

"Oh yes, I know that for a fact."

So what's his favourite show?

"George Galloway."

After expulsion, after mis-adventuring in Bethnal Green and Bradford and Celebrity Big Brother, could Gorgeous George be not only rehabilitated but taking a short Shami to the House Of Lords? Stranger things have happened. And that's just this week.

@gavhaynes

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