Thursday, 8 September 2016

Comrades, Relax! - WSJ

China in the 70s. This is Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, in
Beijing, October 1973.  Far left is Steve FitzGerald, Australian Ambassador.
A few years later I worked for him in the Embassy, then I was a partner in
his firm until 1989. Far right, the little guy? Deng Xiaoping!
You know what cured me of a susceptibility to socialism, a leaning to leftism?  What got me off an undergraduate flirtation with marxism, critiques of capitalism, contempt for Amerika's empire?  
It was when I went to live, work and study in China in 1976. That cured me. 
What I saw was a poor people, fed poorly, clothes uniformly poor, nothing to buy, unable to speak their minds. Food was rationed. Cotton cloth was rationed. Wages were low --  US$30 per month was good money.  Even a Vice Premier, like Deng Xiaoping, above, would have been earning only about a couple of hundred a month.
China was still under the influence of the "Gang of Four" then (remember them?). China was still undergoing the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution then. 
We didn't know that this would soon change. By the end of 1976 the G4 had been arrested and China began what would become the greatest turnaround in world history. Food, clothing, consumer goods are all plentiful and cheap. Average wages have gone up at a compound annual rate of 14%,  a staggering rate (recall Warren Buffet talking about the "magic of compunding interest"), bringing around 500 million people, that's right, half a Billion -- out of poverty, and creating a prosperous middle class that is the largest in the world -- and the most optimistic. All of this is simply staggering. And it's the difference between capitalism (or, as the Chinese insist, "socialism with Chinese characteristics") and socialism. 
I was cured. 
But so many in the west are not. They don't know the reality or are willfully blind to it. 
Let them live for a while in Venezuela and see what socialism does to a country. Right next door is Columbia, where Venezuelans now have to go just to get basics. 
Or live for a bit in the socialist paradise of North Korea. I've been there. Ugh!
A pox on socialists and Marxists. 
Anyway, the article below the fold is an amusing take on the continuing (and to me puzzling) academic enthusiasm for Marxism.
Gary Saul Morson, a professor at Northwestern, writing on “the hidden horrors of Soviet life” in the September issue of the New Criterion: 
Pol Pot’s murder of a quarter of Cambodia’s population has not dimmed academic enthusiasm for the Marxism his henchmen studied in Paris. Neither the Chinese Cultural Revolution nor the Great Purges seem to have cast a shadow on the leftists who apologized for them. Quite the contrary, university classes typically blame the Cold War on American “paranoia” about communism and still picture Bolsheviks as idealists in too great a hurry. Being leftwing means never having to say you’re sorry. . . .
Our knowledge of Bolshevik horrors expanded dramatically when, after the fall of the Soviet Union, its archives were opened. Jonathan Brent and Yale University Press brought out volume after volume of chilling documents, but public opinion did not noticeably change. How many readers of The New York Times know about its role in covering up the worst of Stalin’s crimes and earning a Pulitzer Prize (still unreturned) for doing so?
I understand being so carried away by Communist ideals that one denies or justifies millions of deaths. What amazes me is that people and publications who have done so still feel entitled to criticize others from a position of moral superiority. . . .
I first grasped what Stalinist life was like during a course I took with Wolfgang Leonhard,the child of German communists who was brought up in the USSR, defected to Yugoslavia, and wound up teaching Russian history at Yale. His autobiography, Child of the Revolution, tells a story, set during the Great Purges, about some families in a communal apartment who are awakened at 4 a.m. (the usual time for arrests) by a peremptory banging at the door. Finally one old man, with less life left to lose, answers, disappears into the corridor, and at last returns. “Comrades, relax!” he explains. “The house is on fire!”