Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 23 March 2021


Western culture elites are giving away Lenin’s rope

“The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

That quote, attributed to Lenin, was a colourful metaphor for what Marxists call the internal contradictions of capitalism. Belief in the inherent inevitability of the West’s imminent collapse sustained the Soviet Communists right up to the moment in 1989 when their own system proved more self-annihilating than anything capitalism could muster.

But the old maxim has taken on a new and more plausible form today. It was on display last week in the first encounter between US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy team and the modern claimants to Marxism-Leninism’s primacy in the Chinese Communist Party.

Yang Jiechi, centre, at the opening session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, last week. Picture: AFP
Yang Jiechi, centre, at the opening session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, last week. Picture: AFP

It was evident from the moment the two sides sat down that an emboldened Chinese leadership understands that the greatest ideological weapon it now holds in its increasingly existential struggle with America is the gleeful enthusiasm for self-destruction that characterises so much of elite opinion in the US.

When Yang Jiechi, the Communist Party’s foreign-affairs chief, lectured Secretary of State Antony Blinken about America’s human-rights record, its treatment of minorities and its system’s innate inequity, everything he said could have been lifted straight from the pages of the Democratic Party’s presidential election platform, culled from Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper stories, or jotted down in a student’s notes from lectures delivered daily at America’s top universities.

The larger truth is that the people who control America’s leading cultural institutions and now its government have been eagerly manufacturing ideological rope for the Chinese hangman, and they’ve stepped up production over the past year.

The intellectual movement to which they subscribe has been the force behind the planned destruction — figuratively and literally — of the principal pillars of America’s authority in the world: the idea that the greatest nation on the planet was founded on universal ideals of human freedom and dignity. Instead, it insists, like those Chinese Communists, that all along this claim to a unique status in the world has been a fraud, mere sloganeering behind which America has been — and remains — a force for repression and exploitation.

How can a nation prevail in a global ideological struggle when its leaders believe its values are intrinsically evil?

This isn’t about the maternity flight suits for fighter pilots or updated requirements for army hairstyles the commander in chief proudly hailed earlier this month.

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: Getty Images
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: Getty Images

It’s about the elevation of victimhood as the prime signifier of honour in modern America. Whether you’re an opportunistic young hoodlum looting Gucci or a member of the celebrity plutocracy seeking better publicity, don the mantle of a hapless innocent exploited by an inherently unjust system, and you’re golden. It’s hard to imagine a successful society in which the claim to being the victim of some oppressor — often a spurious claim — is the quickest route to advancement.

It’s about the destruction of the idea of academic excellence that now seems to have much of the educational establishment in its grip. Democrats in control of major cities across the country are busy eliminating the opportunities for some of their most disadvantaged children that come from admission to selective schools on the basis of talent. We are told that’s discriminatory. Levelling down is the result.

And of course it’s in the fanatical insistence on the qualities that divide rather than unite Americans — race, sexual orientation and multifarious “gender” — as the principal characteristics of identity. How bitterly ironic that Marxist theories of structural oppression that were discredited by the experience of America’s ideological adversaries in the last century are now rampant in the most influential strata of American society in this one. Lenin may get the last laugh.

The Chinese have proved much more adept than their Russian predecessors at adapting the precepts of Marxism to economic reality. As Lenin predicted, they’ve had plenty of help from American capitalists in the process.

But our cultural elites have also been busy exporting the hangman’s rope across the Pacific. At least the capitalists have been selling it to them. Much of modern America seems intent on giving it away.

The Wall Street Journal

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