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SOVIET PROPAGANDA ORGANISATIONS: A SURVEY

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The following background brief was prepared by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Research and Analysis Department in April 1989. The brief gives an overview of international front organisations sponsored by the Soviet Government to further its foreign policy objectives and as conduits for anti-Western propaganda.

Soviet Propaganda Organisations

Background Brief

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London

This paper has been prepared for general briefing purposes. It is not and should not be construed or quoted as an expression of Government policy.

 

April 1989

SOVIET PROPAGANDA ORGANISATIONS: A SURVEY

The forthcoming 13th World Youth Festival, to be held in Pyongyang, North Korea, will be the largest international Communist front gathering since the Copenhagen Peace Congress in October 1986.

The 13th World Youth and Student Festival will be held in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, from 1-8 July 1989. The organisers - two Soviet-controlled international front organisations, the Budapest-based World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) and the Prague-based International Union of Students (IUS) - hope to appeal especially to Third World youth.

Such Festivals are invariably propaganda platforms for Soviet foreign policy; most have been held on Communist territory, the exceptions being Vienna (1959) and Helsinki (1962). The first was held in Prague in July 1947, shortly before the Communist takeover. Thus the Pyongyang Festival will be only the second to have been held outside Europe (the other was in Havana in July 1978) and the first in Asia.

The 12 Festivals held since 1947 have all been organised by the WFDY and the IUS, two of the ostensibly independent international bodies ultimately controlled by the Soviet Communist Party's International Department in Moscow. The most important of the older front organisations is the World Peace Council (WPC).

Soviet Communist Party's International Department

The first international organisation created by Lenin was the Third or Communist International itself, the Comintern, founded in 1919 and dissolved, for tactical reasons, by Stalin in 1943. Since 1978 the Soviet party's International Department has discharged its task, inherited at several removes, of establishing and ultimately controlling the international network of front organisations whose primary function is to influence world opinion in a Soviet direction. (The International Department has wide responsibility for Soviet foreign policy formulation, and also controls all pro-Soviet national Communist parties, as well as the World Marxist Review, published in Prague under Soviet editorship.) Since the WPC's Sofia Peace Parliament in 1980, the established fronts have been increasingly supplemented by newer, and more flexible, professional and other specialised peace groups, such as the Generals for Peace and Disarmament and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). It is the purpose of the sponsors of many of these organisations to exploit and mislead their non-Communist supporters, whose sincerity is not necessarily in dispute.

The established fronts

The Soviet Union's established international front organisations purport to be democratic and non-governmental, but are largely discredited because of their consistently pro-Soviet stance. Their campaigns, although conducted worldwide, have been against the West and, in particular, NATO.

Lenin and Stalin regarded domestic trade unions, youth organisations and other such bodies as "transmission belts" for conveying Communist Party directives to, and "educating", the masses. This practice of using non-party groups was developed internationally during the Popular Front period of the 1930s, especially by a German Communist working for the Comintern, Willi Münzenberg, who nevertheless openly dismissed such groups as "innocents' clubs". The Soviet Union created the current network of interlocking front organisations in the late 1940s, either by securing control of existing movements or by launching new ones. Almost always obedient to the Soviet line, they have attracted support by espousing such issues as opposition to US "aggression" in Vietnam or against Nicaragua, "anti-colonialism" and assistance to "national liberation movements". In Europe, they have long exploited fears of nuclear war by pressing for disarmament (on Soviet terms). After 1985, they added to their strident, but unsuccessful, opposition to NATO's siting of Cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe a campaign against the "militarisation of space", with which they identified the US Strategic Defence Initiative rather than Soviet activity in the same field.

In recent years the WPC, as the leading front organisation, has expanded its activities in support of Soviet policies, especially in its efforts to gain acceptance for Soviet views on detente and peaceful coexistence. It was prominent in trying to distract attention from the fact that (under Khrushchev and his successors) peaceful coexistence did not preclude intensification of the international "class struggle".

The front organisations have faced many internal crises arising from Soviet actions. In 1949, after the expulsion of Yugoslavia from the Cominform, Yugoslav representatives were expelled from all Soviet-controlled bodies. The Sino-Soviet dispute led to the ostracism of China, subsequently one of the organisations' most vocal critics in UN circles. First disclosures, at the Soviet Communist Party's 20th Congress in February 1956, of Stalin's crimes, the Soviet Union's suppression of the Hungarian uprising in November 1956, the invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and of Afghanistan in 1979, each produced widespread, if temporary, loss of support and led to the replacement of many front officials.

Despite such setbacks, large Soviet subsidies and greater care in the selection of personnel ensured the organisations' survival. But criticisms of the Soviet Union - particularly from West European Communists - for its treatment of dissidents, violations of human rights and, in recent years, events in Afghanistan and Poland, provoked new strains. Indeed, the widespread condemnation of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan caused a delay of several weeks before the front organisations began to issue statements supporting Soviet policy: the WPC's approval was delayed for two months. Nevertheless, these organisations' objectives are unlikely to change fundamentally while the Soviet Union controls their finances (accounts are seldom published). Although their working methods have become more sophisticated, speeches are still often censored in advance, resolutions passed "by acclamation" rather than by vote, and proceedings generally stage-managed. "New thinking" in Moscow will need to develop much further before its impact on these bodies is manifest.

The activities of the WPC were specifically endorsed by the late President Brezhnev in his address to the 26th Soviet Party Congress in February 1981 (the WPC and three other front organisations sent delegates to that Congress, the first time they had ever been represented at the event).

To help fill the vacuum left by the demise of the Comintern and the post-war Cominform, they have, since the 1970s, participated in joint consultative gatherings: for instance, in a liaison meeting in Prague in October 1983 attended by representatives of 14 front organisations and the World Marxist Review. At the 27th Party Congress in February/March 1986, seven fronts were represented and their delegates each addressed the Congress in session, demonstrating their increasing importance to the Soviet Union. After 1986, Soviet sources began to describe these bodies as "closely cooperating non-governmental organisations", and plans were made that year jointly to sponsor the establishment of a permanent consultative commission in Prague to coordinate front propaganda. Liaison meetings of front organisations have been held each year since 1978 (eg 17 international fronts met in Havana in 1985, 14 met in Prague in 1987; more recently, nine met in Cairo in 1988).

The organisations stress the importance of their activities within the United Nations framework. Many have consultative status with major UN bodies and send delegates or observers to a variety of UN special committees and seminars. Efforts were made to exploit, for Soviet ends, the UN Youth Year (1985) and the UN Year of Peace (1986). The WPC also tends to dominate the unofficial Conference of Non-Governmental Organisations in Consultative Status with ECOSOC, known as CONGO.

Changing Soviet attitudes

In 1985 a senior Soviet historian, Professor Boris Koval of the USSR Association of Political Sciences, explained the Soviet Communist Party's role in promoting such organisations. Addressing the 13th Congress of the International Political Science Association in Paris, he recalled that in 1935,

"...at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, the struggle against fascism and the threat of war was considered as the main goal ... [Subsequently] the anti-war movement became far more militant and acquired incomparably greater mass character in comparison with the 1930s and 1940s, and Communists played ... an extremely important role. It was they who were in the vanguard of the anti-war movement during the years of the Cold War ... The organised movement for peace first emerged at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s when the World Peace Council, World Federation of Trade Unions and a number of other international democratic organisations were established...

Thanks to the Communists, already during the 1950s the peace movement acquired a mass character in European countries."

Traditionally however, the Soviet view of "peace" has not been that of Western supporters of peace. As Romesh Chandra, the Communist President of the WPC, admitted in the World Marxist Review, January 1981:

"...detente by no means implied that the oppressed and exploited were deprived of their legitimate right to fight, with arms in hand, for liberation from national and social oppressions ... The peace movement has always supported and will continue to support just national liberation struggles in any form..."

One consequence of glasnost has been that such dogmas are now sometimes criticised even inside the Soviet Union. In 1988 a leading Soviet academic, for the first time, challenged the authority of the post-war Soviet "peace" movement:

"...on the one hand, we heightened the level of the danger of war by attacking the West's positions and, on the other, we mounted a broad campaign in defence of peace and spared no resources to organise a movement of champions of peace. It is no accident that a joke current in the 1950s said, 'there will be such a struggle for peace that everything will be razed to the ground'. Over the years, all this was embodied in stereotyped and cliché-ridden thinking and in the mentality of leading cadres, who effectively were prisoners of their own propaganda" (Professor Vyacheslav Dashichev, Literaturnaya Gazeta, Moscow, 15 May 1988).

These criticisms were taken further by Soviet Peace Committee member, Dr Tair Tairov, writing in the journal of the London-based European Nuclear Disarmament group (END Journal No. 36, October 1988):

"...the WPC ... later ... turned into a window show; the aim was to convince the Soviet people that everything outside is OK, the whole world is with us. But the WPC is bureaucratised and closed for ordinary people ... So I think changes should take place in many aspects of the WPC, financial for instance. It should become very open on how it spends its money, how it fund-raises.... The WPC remains authoritarian, hierarchical ... You can't go on pretending that SS20s are different from Cruise and Pershing II..."

According to the Finnish newspaper, Kansan Uutiset, 29 October 1988, Genrikh Borovik, a WPC Vice-President and Tairov's superior as the Chairman of the Soviet Peace Committee, said in an interview: "I am not satisfied with the activities of the World Peace Council. No one can be satisfied with its work. They need perestroika at the WPC". The same newspaper published on 19 November Borovik's second thoughts on the interview, when he said that he would not like to go as far as the interviewer in identifying supporters of "old" and "new" thinking at the WPC.

THE NETWORK

The established international front organisations are, in addition to the WPC,

• AFRO-ASIAN PEOPLES' SOLIDARITY ORGANISATION (AAPSO)

• CHRISTIAN PEACE CONFERENCE (CPC)

• INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF DEMOCRATIC LAWYERS (IADL)

• INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF RESISTANCE FIGHTERS (FIR)

• INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR PEACE (IIP)

• INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION OF JOURNALISTS (IOJ)

• INTERNATIONAL RADIO AND TELEVISION ORGANISATION (OIRT)

• INTERNATIONAL UNION OF STUDENTS (IUS)

• WOMEN'S INTERNATIONAL DEMOCRATIC FEDERATION (WIDF)

• WORLD FEDERATION OF DEMOCRATIC YOUTH (WFDY)

• WORLD FEDERATION OF SCIENTIFIC WORKERS (WFSW)

• WORLD FEDERATION OF TEACHERS' UNIONS (FISE)

• WORLD FEDERATION OF TRADE UNIONS (WFTU)

All echo the views of the Soviet Peace Committee, itself a creature of the Soviet Government. As Yevgeny Oskolsky, a member of the Soviet Peace Committee Secretariat, said in 1984: "we are not the spokesman of the [Soviet] Government, the Soviet Government is our spokesman" (Il Giornale, Milan, 23 July 1984).

World Peace Council

The WPC is based in Helsinki. It was founded in Paris in 1949 as the World Committee of Partisans for Peace but was expelled from France in 1951 for "fifth-column activities"; it moved first to Prague, and then to Vienna until banned by Austria in 1957 for "activities directed against the interests of the Austrian State".

Many Western nuclear disarmament campaigners recognise the fact that the WPC is under Moscow's control. As E P Thompson, the founder of END, said, "to allow the Western Peace movement to drift into collusion with the strategy of the World Peace Council - that is, in effect, to become a movement opposing NATO militarism only - is a recipe for our own containment and ultimate defeat" (The Guardian, London, 23 February 1981). The WPC's last major international event, the Copenhagen Peace Congress in October 1986, was a relative failure largely boycotted by independent Western peace groups. This caused the WPC's sponsors some concern and a major reorganisation is now in prospect: the organisation's basic aims and structure are to be discussed at the forthcoming triennial Council session in Athens in December 1989. There is already evidence of serious disagreement between the WPC's most senior officials.

WPC finance

The WPC claims to be funded by contributions from affiliated national peace committees, donations to its World Peace Fund and special collections. In fact it is subsidised, openly and covertly, by the Soviet Union and other Communist countries. The open subsidy partly consists of subventions from Communist-run States and from the Soviet Peace Fund. Large-scale "contributions" are made to the Fund by deductions from Soviet workers' wages: some 80-100 million Soviet citizens "contribute" (20th Century and Peace, Soviet monthly magazine, No. 5, 1982). The Russian Orthodox Church also contributes to the Fund.

In 1979 Stanislav Levchenko, a former KGB officer and consultant to the Soviet Peace Committee, pointed out that the Fund "comes under the guidance of the International Department [of the Soviet Communist Party], which ensures that the Soviet Peace Fund spends its money for the right causes" (Hearings before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, US House of Representatives, 97th Congress, 13-14 July 1982, p 60). Similarly Ruth Tosek, a former interpreter on the staff of several of these organisations, including the WPC, wrote in the New Statesman, London, 17 October 1980, that "all funds of these organisations, in local and in hard currency, were provided above all by the Soviet Union but also by other East European satellite countries on the basis of set contribution rates, paid by the government of these countries through various channels". Svetlana Savitskaya, one of the Fund's deputy Chairmen, said on Soviet television, 11 September 1987, that "the most important international congresses, meetings and fora are held with the Fund's resources ... such as the International Women's Congress held recently, and the Congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and a whole number of other meetings".

There is also concealed funding. WPC publications are often printed on the government-controlled presses in Eastern Europe, including that of the Soviet Government newspaper Izvestiya. Similarly, delegates' travel and living expenses are usually paid for by the Communist host governments, and air transport is often provided by the Soviet airline, Aeroflot.

In 1981, the WPC was forced to withdraw an application for Category I Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on the grounds that not only were WPC accounts not independently audited, but "it had received large-scale financial support from government funds and has gone to great lengths to conceal that fact from the Committee" (ECOSOC Report, 18 March 1981).

Funding has not been the WPC's only embarrassment at the UN; its connexion with Soviet intelligence activities has also long been known. As a Soviet defector, A N Shevchenko, formerly the senior Soviet representative at the UN, reported in 1985: "the Soviet-controlled World Peace Council ... headed by an Indian, Romesh Chandra, swarmed with KGB officers".

WPC propaganda and activities

The WPC has always functioned as a sounding board for specific themes of Soviet propaganda. In the 1950s it mounted a campaign alleging the use of bacteriological weapons - "germ warfare" - by forces serving with the UN's Unified Command in Korea (UNUCK). As recently as 1987 the WPC's British affiliate, the British Peace Assembly, revived this claim in issues of its bi-monthly journal, the Newsletter: Facts the Media Ignore (July/August 1987). It also added, for good measure, that the Americans had in recent years created the AIDS virus which, it was alleged, had escaped from a US military laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland (an assertion that had already been rejected by reputable scientists in the West, and even by leading Soviet scientists).

The WPC's main international events are its world peace congresses, held about every three years under various titles. In September 1980, over 2,000 delegates attended its World Parliament of the Peoples for Peace in Sofia; and in June 1983, the World Assembly for Peace and Life, against Nuclear War, was held in Prague and attended by over 3,000. Sofia's main legacy, developed at Prague, was the decision to create new professional peace organisations for lawyers, journalists, parliamentarians, physicians, scientists, teachers and so forth. The 14th and latest such congress, the World Congress Devoted to the International Year of Peace, held in Copenhagen in 1986, attracted about 2,000 delegates.

Apart from stage-managing such gatherings, the WPC tries to promote other undertakings at one remove (the technique of using fronts for fronts). Meetings have, for instance, been sponsored by the International Liaison Forum of Peace Forces based in Helsinki, the International Committee for European Security and Cooperation based in Brussels, and the International Trade Union Committee for Peace and Disarmament (the so-called "Dublin Committee"), all of which are effectively under WPC or WFTU control.

In Britain, the WPC's international affiliate from 1950-74 was the British Peace Committee (BPC). This was superseded by the All-Britain Peace Liaison Group (ABPLG), which was responsible for the Forum to End the Arms Race, for World Disarmament, held at York in April 1976. In April 1980, the Group re-emerged as the British Peace Assembly (BPA), headed by a British WPC Vice-President. (A related group, Parliamentarians for Peace, was also formed in 1980, the Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer all being WPC members.) In practice, the BPA has little influence.

Other front organisations

On peace issues, the Christian Peace Conference is rather more plausible than the WPC. Its headquarters have been in Prague since 1958, where it was formally constituted in 1961. Despite efforts by some West European Christians to counter Soviet influence and to use it as a channel to East European Christian groups, the CPC has been successfully exploited for Soviet ends. After a hiatus caused by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 (a CPC meeting in Paris, in October 1969, condemned the invasion), Soviet control over the organisation was restored by 1970.

Another prominent international front organisation, the Prague-based World Federation of Trade Unions, is active in the Soviet peace campaign through its subsidiary, the "Dublin Committee". The latter's aims, as outlined in its Action Programme, are "to mobilise all the world trade unions for peace and disarmament and to co-ordinate trade union efforts on these questions".

The Women's International Democratic Federation, based in East Berlin, issued an appeal on 17 December 1982 urging women "to stand up for peace" and proposing to "unite all activity, all initiatives, in a world women's action campaign for peace and disarmament" (The New Worker, London, 22 December 1982). In June 1987, the Ninth World Congress of Women was held in Moscow under the auspices of the WIDF and its principal national affiliate, the Soviet Women's Committee (whose British counterpart is the National Assembly of Women).

The International Organisation of Journalists (headquarters in Prague) adopted at its 10th Congress, in Sofia in October 1986, an appeal to all journalists to "unite their efforts in the struggle for peace, against the threat of nuclear conflagration, for self-determination, democracy and progress" (The Democratic Journalist, IOJ publication, No. 1, January 1987). Related Journalists for Peace groups have emerged in Europe and Asia since the WPC's World Assembly for Peace and Life, in Prague in June 1983.

Although there is no formal unifying structure they have met at least seven times. The British group, Journalists Against Nuclear Extermination (JANE), was established in 1981.

Youth is served by the World Federation of Democratic Youth, founded in London in November 1945 (headquarters now in Budapest). The WFDY cooperates particularly closely with the International Union of Students; the two bodies jointly sponsor the World Youth Festivals.

The IUS, with its headquarters in Prague, only survived with difficulty the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, when its Congress was postponed and its Czechoslovak President, Jiri Pelikan, and Iraqi Secretary-General were replaced. Pelikan later said that the Soviet members "saw the IUS and similar organisations merely as unofficial instruments of Soviet foreign policy" (New Left Review, London, January-February 1972).

Other specialised Soviet-controlled international fronts include those for teachers, resistance fighters, lawyers and scientists. The World Federation of Scientific Workers is the only one with headquarters in London, where it was founded in 1946. A related Committee of Soviet Scientists for the Defence of Peace and against the Nuclear Threat was set up in Moscow in May 1983 to enlist foreign scientists' support for Soviet disarmament issues. Both supported the First International Congress of Scientists for Peace, held in Hamburg in November 1986. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers (headquarters in Brussels) is represented in Britain by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. Its Soviet affiliate, the Association of Soviet Lawyers, and the US Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy held a conference in New York in August 1987, at which a committee to found the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) was set up. The new body's inaugural gathering was held in Stockholm in 1988.

Professional peace groups

The new lawyers' peace organisation represents the latest trend, dating from decisions taken at Sofia in 1980, towards creating professional international groups of a less obviously pro-Soviet stamp. While the traditional fronts tend to conform to a single pattern, the newer professional peace groups do not. Some, like the Generals for Peace and Disarmament, are self-appointed international liaison committees: in the Generals' case, at lease five of the 14 or so members are also WPC members. Others, like the Continuation Committee of the World Conference of Religious Leaders for Peace - the inaugural conference of which was held in Moscow, in May 1982, at the instigation of the Russian Orthodox Church - are based in Moscow. This Committee has staged international religious conferences on "peace and disarmament" themes in Moscow annually since 1982. Groups have recently emerged for journalists, architects, teachers (for peace) and others. It was representatives of newer groups - Generals for Peace and Disarmament, the physicians and scientists - who played the leading part in the Moscow Peace Forum in February 1987. The Soviet Committee, Teachers for Peace, organised an international public and pedagogical conference on The New Thinking and Teaching of Peace, in Moscow in January 1989.

In some instances, the Soviet national affiliate functions as the main element in the new groups. For example since the IPPNW was set up at the end of 1980, the Soviet Physicians' Committee for the Prevention of Nuclear War, claiming to speak for about 60,000 Soviet physicians, has played a leading role in its affairs. The Committee was founded in July 1981 by Academician Yevgeni Chazov, now Soviet Minister of Health and a member of the party's Central Committee.

The IPPNW has attracted the support of many Western physicians in no sense sympathetic to Soviet policies. Ironically, the award of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize to the IPPNW's joint founders was welcomed by the Soviet members of the Nobel Committee despite traditional Soviet coolness towards the Nobel awards. The British Government's view is that "The achievement of the IPPNW ... has been markedly one-sided, as the group has lent uncritical support to Soviet propaganda themes. The group is not in our judgement a genuine bridge-building organisation ... It is significant that the World Peace Council has given prominent support to the IPPNW in its current programme of action..." (Hansard, House of Lords, London, 10 December 1985).

Wider issues

Another new organisation, the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Mankind, was inaugurated in Moscow on 15 January 1988 and held its first board meeting in Washington in November 1988. The Foundation was proposed at the Moscow Peace Forum in February 1987 and is concerned more with environmental issues than with the familiar goals of peace and disarmament. It has the support of distinguished American and European public figures - including the directors of UNESCO and Greenpeace in their private capacities - and claims to be supported by private donations. The Chairman of the board is the Soviet Academician Yevgeny Velikhov, and among the Foundation's aims is the creation of a network of international children's camps. The Foundation has established its headquarters in Moscow, with branches in Washington and Stockholm (as it happens, its Swedish Executive Director, Mr Rolf Bjornerstedt, resides in Moscow).

The Foundation's inaugural meeting was addressed by President Gorbachev and by the then head of the Soviet Communist Party's International Department, Anatoly Dobrynin, a party Secretary who had served as Soviet Ambassador in Washington (he relinquished his party posts in September 1988). It is too soon to be sure how it will develop. The danger is that it will become merely another Soviet-influenced international organisation; one of its backers, the Soviet human rights champion Dr Andrei Sakharov, has already voiced some doubts: according to The Times (London, 21 November 1988), he commented after the meeting: "My hopes for the way the Foundation would work have not been met. Even now ... I reserve the right to withhold approval".

[Source: TNA FO 973/578, transcribed by www.psywar.org]



 

 

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