the fake word

Kazimir Malevich, Sportsmen, 1930-31, oil on canvas, 142 × 164 cm.
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By STELLA SENRA*

Armand Robin, political propaganda, and totalitarian language

The publication of the book the fake word by Armand Robin by Editora n-1 asks for explanation. Why now a work on political propaganda in the USSR based on listening to local and international radio stations during part of World War II and the Cold War? The reader will discover that this analysis (by a poet to boot) still finds insistent echoes in advertising today; even more so because, given the current reality of information, he already finds it difficult to distinguish it from political propaganda.

At the time of the Cold War, Robin noticed that there had never been so much news, but that it was impossible to know what was actually happening. Words that today, perhaps more than ever, sound familiar to us. More particularly, since the technological transformation operated in the digital age has revolutionized the field of information, we have found ourselves practically buried by a mass of news that requires discernment, analysis, and a minimum understanding of this overwhelming process.

Also, perhaps more than ever, War has proven, day by day, that information is one of the main fronts of action. We are flooded with news but, following Robin's words, how do we know what is actually happening? The great machine constituted by powerful news agencies and newspapers in the West pours into our ears, without any counterpoint, information that has the same origin and purpose. Evidently one can assume, also on the other side, the existence of another equally powerful information machine. But how to know, if from there almost nothing reaches us?

Discernment becomes even more difficult when States do not limit themselves to political propaganda, entering the field of fake news.

 

Armand Robin

Writer, poet, critic and translator, Armand Robin has a minimal biography: he was born a poor peasant in Brittany in 1912; he died in the Infirmary of the Central Police in Paris, in 1961, without knowing how he ended up there. Fallen into oblivion, it is still evoked by the book the false word, from 1953, in which he unveils the propaganda rhetoric of the USSR from 1941 to 1961. The book is the result of his original and unique work in radio listening, and the publication of daily bulletins with a detailed examination of the political propaganda of Russian radio stations for the interior and abroad during part of World War II and the Cold War.

In his book he uses terms such as obsessive language, bewitchment, mental hawks, psychophagy to describe how the political propaganda of the USSR was made, and what it did to the human spirit: murder of the word, spiritual death. “Soul killers are finally smiling and full of certainty – he wrote: a hypermodern tool gives them, year after year, the hope of achieving psychic murder at a distance, wirelessly and without trace, of leading all humanity to mental alienation . To be precise, this is a work of mental bewitchment.”

The poet saw his work as that of a “disenchanter”: “To know this project is precisely to have escaped it; to name it is to destroy it; describing it in detail, as objectively as entomologists describe an insect, is even worse than destroying it, is so to speak banishing it…”.

I draw attention to one of the less prominent aspects of his work, which applies perfectly to our times: Robin also listened to the great international radio stations of the Western world, and extended to them the same understanding he had of Soviet propaganda.. He highlighted previously thoughtless similarities between the two, seeking not to privilege either of the two sides that faced each other in that period.

Robin was noted as one of the greatest experts on the world political situation of his time. Much of his work was lost when the police, after his death, emptied his room and threw away everything they found. Friends saved three suitcases of papers; of the bulletins, just over three hundred remained.

Before approaching the subject of information, a brief evocation of his inseparable work, poet and translator.

 

poet and translator

His first book of poems, Ma vie sans moi (1940), it already announced the project of a life that chose to empty itself. The romance Le temps qu'il fait (1942) was hailed by the highly prestigious French critic Maurice Blanchot in his first book, Faux pas, also from 1942. indesirable poems they came out in 1945, but the vast majority of his poems and translations are gathered in posthumous books edited by scholars of his work.

Considered one of the best translators of his generation, Robin translated dozens of great poets from all Indo-European and Eastern languages ​​into French. From Chinese to Arabic, from Japanese to Finnish, he was knowledgeable in a large number of languages ​​(in poetry he translated more than twenty of them; radio listening took place in forty-one). Poetry translation was one of his greatest tasks; very soon he stopped writing his – the “annoying” one – which he “got rid of.

His other task was radio listening and the newsletters he extracted from it. In fact, the two activities were complementary, like two sides of the same coin: in translation, it was a question of populating the head with the voices of all the poets who “anticipated” their words, or else “echoed” them. In radio listening, it was a question of emptying one's head, of making oneself transparent in order to be “crossed” by the false word that aimed to dominate men's minds. Welcoming it, he believed “withdrawing” it from circulation.

Robin moved to Paris when he was very young in order to open up his field of knowledge and socializing. He was linked to the left intellectual milieu, was a communist and visited the USSR in l932. He was deeply shocked by the opulence of the leaders and the misery of the people – with whom he lived closely – and with the lie of omnipresent propaganda. A big blow for a communist who, speaking an oral language, Breton, only learned French at school, and chose the Russian language “as his homeland”.

 

the radio listening

He started listening to the radio and writing reports on the world political situation in 1941, at the Ministry of Information under the German occupation – which undermined his reputation and would never be forgiven by his intellectual friends. Even if he always gave the Resistance all his work, in effect playing the role of a double agent. Soon dismissed from his post, he continued the task, now his, alone.

Robin worked all night (when transmissions were better) listening on shortwave, wrote the bulletin (titled “The International Situation According to Foreign Language Radios”) in the morning, and distributed it personally in the afternoon. Handmade, expensive, aimed at a small number of subscribers: the big ones in finance, diplomacy, politics and information (embassies, the Vatican, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, newspapers...).

With signs of improvisation given the urgency of their production, the bulletins were full of unpublished information and fine analyses; over time they would excel at predicting events, what Robin called "distant prediction by logical deduction." The end of the cult of personality, the emergence of Sino-Soviet tension, the rise of Khrushchev are among the events he was able to "deduce" as a result of unraveling the logic of the USSR's propaganda system.

Robin's listening is that of a poet who lets himself be guided by an almost sensual perception of events: he notes the speaker's tone, his breathing, the casual hesitation, the scansion of advertisements. He also highlights, more than once, the reactions of his own body in the course of this work: the tiredness, the bent position over the radio, the numbness.

Focused specifically on USSR propaganda, the fake word It is a text at once political and poetic. It is pierced by the pain of the poet who sees words murdered by political propaganda – “the killing of the verb” –, and the destruction of the human spirit. For this reason he considered his work as an ontological task. Robin demonstrated how the logic of political propaganda is constituted, exposed its methods and processes – from its conception to its effects on the listener, the “bewitchment”. He called himself the “disenchanted”. He used suggestive terms such as mental robots, remotely controlled people, psychotechnics, to name the creation and domain of thought created in the Stalinist period.

Robin had a deep knowledge of the radio technique, which enabled him to detect and describe its malign use; at the same time he was able to realize his great creative potential by making experimental programs on RTF, French Radio and Television, in the 50s. later be two trump cards of the Internet. In the middle of the Cold War, he was also able to identify the homogeneity of procedure of international radios, both in the western world and in the USSR – a surprising analysis that could be proven today.

The convergence between the book and the moment we live in becomes evident when we witness the intensification of political propaganda and the return of the spirit of the Cold War. Perhaps the non-Russians, as he called them – and above all the Americans – no longer have the trait of a certain “innocence” that he recognized in them, and they no longer believe, like the Russians, in what they said. The Russians, for their part, embraced Western-style capitalism in a way that Robin could not have foreseen. But his analysis still captures, seventy years later, the reality we live in the field of information.

the fake word it can be read like a great prose poem, flowing from essay to poetry and from poetry to the first – which is a surprising way of analyzing political facts; and his memory imposes itself at this moment when information has become a field of struggle. The instantaneity and simultaneity that Robin pointed out as characteristics of radio technology are the foundation of the internet, opening up new possibilities for intervention. The networks thus give rise to new modalities of political action (a field of struggle that has also been asserted in Brazil since the 2018 elections).

The new information system we live with, paradoxically so close to what was consolidated in the USSR in such a distant period, no longer aims to transmit, but to “transform” a given situation – Robin had already observed about totalitarian rhetoric. With the networks, a new modality of news would also be inaugurated: the fake news; and it is important to differentiate them from what Robin called the “false word”. While the latter emanates from the State, and is the result of its logic of power, the fake news they may even emanate from the State, but they result above all from the initiative of less defined, less explicit power groups, much more difficult to detect and combat; diversified, they can range from financial capital to the solitary individual in front of his computer – hence their devastating power.

The text below points to a homogeneity between the two advertising systems that seems more than familiar, current. We will let the reader find mention of the Brazilian situation in the book's introduction: the totalitarian air that expands here from 2018 onwards, and the insistent manipulation of language and words attest to Robin's success. Since your topic was the international situation, we will focus here on the fate of information in the Ukraine-Russia war that broke out a month ago. The reader will see that his thinking has not aged.

[...]

 

United States radios or the inexperiences of pre-capitalism - by ARMAND ROBIN

First of all, two indispensable notes. Some of the ideas that follow will strike some as surprising. Despite having been formed slowly in my spirit over the course of living with the device of delusions called the radio, I must say that, in their final form, they are not exactly mine; they are on the contrary, and only under a different guise, very commonplace in extreme left movements and in advanced workers' circles where the USSR is considered the most characterized capitalist regime that ever existed.

From the coming weeks this “chronicle” will “go down” to the details of the international programs; it is therefore necessary to finish previously the work that will allow, in the sequence and for each case, the complete “disolidarization” in relation to the machinations whose gears we will study one by one.

 

Believing what you say: ineffectiveness factor

When we pass, from one second to the other, from a Russian program to an American broadcast (or, more precisely, to a non-Russian broadcast), what strikes us essentially is the contrast between the “precision” of the first one and the “vague” character from the second. Where the Soviet technicians of "brain possession" have established with impressive detail the maneuver in the materialistic way over millions of minds, the leaders of the United States are still groping for the "mental point" on which to base their propaganda.

Russian radios and non-Russian radios are alike “hoaxes”; but in the former the mystifier remains above and outside the mystification process; in the latter, the mystifier himself is mystified. All non-Russian radio constantly refers to the notion of “man of good will”; constantly they are crossed, like a last shadow, by Christian sentiments; there is constant talk of justice, of the rights of persons, of freedom of spirit; and constantly this is believed, even a little bit. This “little bit” has the most serious consequences: the effort employed to propagate these moral notions is therefore spent more on the conscience of the one who issues them than on the one to whom the propaganda is aimed.

The same notions are talked about equally (perhaps even more) on Russian radio, but without believing in them in the least. The consequence is that all the “mental potential” contained in the evoked entities “discharges” more in the spirit of the listeners targeted by the ongoing tactical operation. In one as in the other, the widespread word is equally false, empty of any authentic substance, a true “corpse”, in harmony with the death of an entire world. But in the case of American (or rather, non-Russian) radio stations, the propagandist of the false word exhausts himself in a last-ditch effort to take from himself whatever might give him a little existence and, in doing so, he reduces his consciousness and loses the game a little.

 

Still many bibles in the vaults.

On the other hand, in American radio the idea of ​​“good business”, “good action”, “power” and “public good” are not yet radically separated from each other. Hence a permanent ambiguity: still fluctuating between the moral point of view and the point of view of power and interest, the radios of the non-Russian world constantly use residues of Christian notions with aims of power and money, but they do so with hesitation . In them, the exploitation of moral sentiment for “antimoral” operations is still confusing, clumsy. In short, everything happens as if these radios were incapable of “taking advantage” of any of these contradictory dispositions between which they vacillate; they let the Russian radios beat them almost certainly on the level of materialistic maneuvering in the brains and, even more than the latter, place them under accusations on the moral level.

We apologize for introducing here the term most worn out by the innumerable operations for which it served and still serves as a vehicle, but we could not avoid it: in fact, from talking so much about “capitalism”, we ended up constituting it. The so-called regime first assumed its form in the Soviet Union, disguising itself under extremely deft phraseology. A class, very limited in number, managed to concentrate as much as possible all materialistic values ​​in its hands, it organized itself in the best way possible to get the workers to produce more and more and consume less and less. This monopolization of all resources in the hands of a team of technicians and “planners” of domination, this Babylonian confiscation of all means of life guaranteeing the comfort of a small number – all this presents the characteristics of capitalism in its highest degree. ultra-centralized, and makes the “imprisonment” of all words addressed to slaves inevitable, in order to get them not only to accept their fate, but to actively participate in the enrichment and strengthening of the master.

 

When the smiling future arrives, whiskey will be the equivalent of vodka.

The appearances that distinguish the Russian fake word from the non-Russian fake word thus correspond to the fact that, outside of Russia, we are still faced with pre-capitalism. The exploitation of man by man has not yet been carried out with all possible rigor, the consequence is that the corresponding radios are the expression of men for whom the exploitation of other men must not go beyond certain limits vaguely designated by moral conventions, traditions , “use” or even “good tone”.

At the outset we suggested that these differences were provisional, that brutal capitalism, in one form or another, would triumph over hesitant and un'planned' capitalism; it may happen that, when it covers the planet, the perception of the apocalyptic character of the giant lie mistakenly leads us to see the future destiny of humanity in very dark ways. Every night it seems to us that soon we will be side by side, in perfect agreement, Russian radio stations increasingly “Stalinized” and non-Russian radio stations increasingly “Burnhamized”.[1]

*Stella Senra holds a PhD in information sciences from the University of Paris II. She is the author, among other books, of The last journalist: cinema images (Freedom Station).

 

Reference


Armand Robin. the fake word. Translation: Stella Senra. São Paulo, Editora n-1, 2022, 264 pages.

 

Note


[1] James Burnham, American philosopher born in 1905. After breaking with Trotskyism, he published an essay in 1941, The managerial revolution”, translated in France with a preface by Léon Blum and entitled L'ère des Organisateurs ,. At heart, violently anti-communist, he defended that, due to the growing complexity of the economy, it will not be a socialist society that will succeed capitalism, but a “directory society” where technocrats (the “directors”, the “managers”) will reign as sirs. According to him, the foundations of this new society would already be established, both in the West and in the East. Between August 19 and September 3, 1947, J. Burnham published in Le Monde a series of articles entitled “For world domination”. Author's note.

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