since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there has been a seemingly endless
flow of self-congratulatory comment in the West about how former
Communist countries – and even some which have remained Communist
– are gradually Westernising and learning the ropes in the capitalist
jungle. Very often, these countries' so-called progress is
in fact cultural decline: the advent of bars for transsexuals in
Havana, for instance, has been adduced as evidence of Cuba's "liberalisation."
But the equal and opposite movement nearly always goes unnoticed – the way in which the West has itself adopted many of the
old nostrums of Communism, and especially the twin doctrines of
revolution and internationalism.
has now become a completely positive word in the Western political
lexicon. Fifteen years ago, it still carried – at least for
conservatives – the negative connotations of "Bolshevik,"
"sexual" and "French." Not any more. The
myth of revolution now wields such a strong hold over our collective
consciousness that, with the compulsiveness of children who beg
to be re-told the same story, we regularly accept at face value
fairy tales about revolutions in a faraway country of which we know
nothing. Being tabula rasa for us, these countries are the
perfect backdrop on which to project our own fantasies: these tales
invariably follow the same formulaic sequence, in which a dishonest
or authoritarian or brutal regime is overthrown by "people
power," and everyone lives happily ever after.
years have seen a spate of such "revolutions." The overthrow
of Slobodan Milosevic on 5th October 2000 in Belgrade;
the overthrow of the Georgian president, Edward Shevardnadze, in
the "rose revolution" of November 2003; the "orange
revolution" in Ukraine last Christmas; the violent overthrow
of the president of Kyrgyzstan in March; the uprising in the Uzbek
city of Andijan in May — all these are presented as spontaneous
outbursts of righteous popular indignation. Perhaps authoritarian
regimes, rather like the walls of Jericho, really are brought tumbling
down by the chanting of a John Lennon song. But prior to the
fall of Communism, "revolution" and "people power"
was considered just leftish propaganda. We dismissed the Soviet
regime's appeal to its own founding event as grotesque political
kitsch, masking the sinister reality of power machinations behind
the scenes. Now we seem to have become more naïve, and
have started to take these same two-dimensional archetypes seriously.
often happens that, after the event, reports reveal that the things
were not as spontaneous as was believed at the time. In the cases
of Ukraine, for instance, it is now a matter of public record that
the Americans poured huge sums into the campaign of Viktor Yushchenko,
and that the Ukrainian KGB was also heavily involved on the Americans'
side, playing a key role in stage-managing the whole charade. To
be sure, the fact that secret services may be involved does not
mean that the people on the streets themselves do not believe in
the rightness of their cause, or that the events are the result
of manipulation alone. But the simplistic terms in which these "revolutions"
are presented by our media, and believed by us at the time, are
so strong that they reveal more about our own inner fantasies and
desires, and about the true nature of our own political culture,
than it does about the countries themselves.
particular, they reveal that the West has fallen in love with the
myth of revolution. If Chairman Mao once said that "Marxism
consists of a thousand truths but they all boil down to one sentence:
u2018It is right to rebel'," that sentiment now forms a central
tenet of Western political orthodoxy. One of the key catchphrases
of George Bush's presidency has been the eminently Trotskyite concept
of world revolution: on 6th November 2003, the American president
specifically said that, "The establishment of a free Iraq in
the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global
democratic revolution." In his second inaugural speech,
on 20th January, Bush announced nothing less than a programme
of political emancipation for the whole planet — he said that America
was pursuing "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
Bush is not, of course, a closet Marxist. But many of his closest
advisers, especially the neo-conservatives, come from what can only
be described as a post-Trostkyite background. The original Marxist
plan was for the socialist revolution to engulf the whole planet,
and this plan was embraced by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. It
famously came up against the buffers of Stalin's alternative proposal
to build socialism in one country first. In exile, Trotsky kept
the idea of world revolution going by setting up the Fourth International
in 1938. Within two years, Irving Kristol — the man who was later
to be the founding father of the neo-conservatism movement which
so dominates the Bush administration — joined it. Kristol's own
influence has been immense and his son, William, is now one of America's
most influential neo-cons. But Irving Kristol never renounced or
condemned his Trotskyite past: in 1983, he wrote that he was still
proud of it.
same goes for numerous leading lights in the neo-conservative movement.
In 1996, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, one
of the leading ideologues of the war on terror, coined the phrase
"global democratic revolution" – in the subtitle
of a book in which he attacked Bill Clinton for being a "counter-revolutionary."
The book's title, Freedom
Betrayed, is an obvious allusion to Trostky's own 1938 account
of his break with Stalin, The
Revolution Betrayed. Another leading neo-con, David Horowitz,
himself a former Communist, published The
Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits in 2000:
the book was given a warm write-up by Karl Rove, George Bush's chief
of staff, as "a perfect pocket guide to winning on the political
battlefield from an experienced warrior" even though Horowitz
quotes Lenin approvingly in it: "You cannot cripple an opponent
by outwitting him in a political debate. You can only do it by following
Lenin's injunction: u2018In political conflicts, the goal is not to
refute your opponent's argument, but to wipe him from the face of
the earth.' " In the same vein, Eric Hobsbawm, the veteran
Marxist historian, wrote at the end of June that "At least
one passionate ex-Marxist supporter of Bush has told me, only half
in jest: u2018After all, this is the only chance of supporting world
revolution that looks like coming my way.' "
such comparisons seem outlandish, it is precisely because we in
the West have failed to grasp the true nature of Marxism-Leninism.
We think of Communism as being all about state ownership of the
means of production and central planning: in fact, Karl Marx advocated
neither. Instead, according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the "soul
of Marxism" lies in something called dialectical materialism.
Derived from Hegel and ultimately Heraclitus, this doctrine
holds that the world is in a constant state of flux, that nothing
is absolutely true or false, and that everything is connected to
everything else. Permanent revolution is consequently the natural
state of reality, and hence of politics. Because flux is the natural
state, Marx, Engels and Lenin all reasoned that all fixed forms
of political association, i.e. the state, were oppressive, and that
men would not be free until the state itself had "withered
was this withering away of the state to occur? For Marx and Engels
the answer was clear: world capitalism would do the trick.
The two authors of The
Communist Manifesto eulogised the unstoppable revolutionary
force of world capitalism — what we now call "globalisation."
They were convinced that capitalism was an unstoppable revolutionary
force; that it would overthrow all the existing structures of nation,
state and family; and that it would usher in a politically and economically
united world. "The bourgeoisie," they enthused,
"cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments
of production. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their
train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept
away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.
All that is solid melts into the air, all that is holy is
Marx and Engels, indeed, the key to the revolutionary power of the
bourgeoisie lay precisely in its international and cosmopolitan
nature: "To the great chagrin of Reactionists,"
they wrote, "the bourgeoisie has drawn from under the feet
of industry the national ground on which it stood. In place
of the old local and national self-seclusion and self-sufficiency,
we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence
of nations." Globalisation, in other words. Engels argued
explicitly that the atomisation and deracination caused by international
capitalism was the necessary precursor to worldwide emancipation:
"The disintegration of mankind into a mass of isolated,
mutually repelling atoms," he wrote, "means the destruction
of all corporate, national and indeed of any particular interests
and is the last necessary step towards the free and spontaneous
association of men."
is well known that Marxists believe political arrangements to be
a mere "superstructure" determined by the underlying economic
reality. "The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal
lord," Marx wrote, "the steam-mill, society with the industrial
capitalist." After the fall of the Berlin Wall, when
the division between East and West was overcome, Western ideologues
of globalisation used this same Marxist argument to claim that things
like the Internet and the fax machine meant that the sovereign state
belonged in the dustbin of history. They then used this alleged
withering away of the state to argue in favour of a one-world political
regime, in which statehood would have to give way to the superior
claims of universal human rights. Tony Blair justified NATO's
attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 by saying that the right to bomb a
country for alleged human rights abuses derived from globalisation.
"People are recognizing that if there is a serious problem
with the Brazilian economy it develops into a serious problem for
the British economy," he said. "It is similar with
neocons hated Bill Clinton for his pragmatic refusal to follow Tony
Blair's logic through to its conclusion, for instance when he withdrew
from chaotic Somalia rather than carry the burden of nation-building.
George Bush has done the opposite. He seldom allows reason
of state, or any other practical consideration, to befog his own
ideological clarity. In his second inauguration speech, Bush
pronounced the word "freedom" twenty-eight times, the
word "free" seven times and the word "liberty"
fifteen times: he sounded like he was singing the Internationale.
Bush makes a highly moralistic appeal to universal values,
which he says America embodies and which he insists "are right
and true for all people everywhere." "Freedom," he
has said, "is the non-negotiable demand of human dignity; the
birthright of every person — in every civilisation." Laced
as it is with religious (often esoteric and even apocalyptic) vocabulary
— the American president frequently says that freedom is God's plan
for mankind — Bush's Messianic political discourse recalls the Marxist
movement which swept through Latin America in the 1970s, conjugating
God and politics, and which was known as "liberation theology."
is this promise to emancipate the whole of mankind which so endears
George Bush to a phalanx of former Marxist ideologues like Christopher
Hitchens, Nick Cohen, John Lloyd, Julie Burchill and David Aaronovitch.
People who in their youth idolised the worker "who has
no country" have little difficulty identifying with today's
cosmopolitan ideology of globalisation, or with George Bush's internationalism.
Hitchens has defended his own surprising work with the neo-conservatives
by saying, "I feel much more like I used to in the 1960s, working
with revolutionaries," and he understands that George Bush's
policy of regime change is by definition going to be supported by
revolutionaries. As he pointed out, with his customary clarity,
in a recent debate on the Today programme with his brother,
Peter, "It is right, I think, that conservatives oppose regime
change: that is what conservatives do."
for the programme of world revolution also explains the support
given by ten Eastern European heads of government, nearly all of
them former communist apparatchiks, who, almost alone in the world,
lined up obediently to sign an open letter of support for the impending
Iraq war in February 2003. "Dissidents" in Eastern
Europe — broadly speaking, the people who are now in power — were
not anti-communists at all, but instead "critical" Marxists
who worked within the Communist system to reform it, not destroy
it. Bush's announced fight "against tyranny" is of obvious
appeal to those who used to rally around the old communist cry of
"anti-fascism," which in turn was largely a slogan expressing
leftist hostility to the nation and the state, both of which are
now deeply unpopular concepts in the West.
it is a striking indication of the dominance of left-wing modes
of thought in the West that the supreme political insult in the
new world order is "authoritarian." Authority is, by definition,
a conservative notion — and that is why it is universally reviled
in the West today. Without exception, every single political leader
whom the West has removed, or tried to remove, in the last decade
and a half, has been labelled "authoritarian" or "nationalist,"
as if these right-wing vices were the only political sin. This malediction
is bandied about, even when the leaders so attacked are in fact
old lefties like Slobodan Milosevic, Alexander Lukashenko or Saddam
short, any state which pursues a policy of national independence
will soon find itself in the West's cross-hairs. The Clintonite
doctrine that there are such things as "rogue states,"
which has been effortlessly adopted by George W. Bush, means precisely
this. There is an international and a domestic aspect to this
hostility to the state: internationally, George Bush's "forward
strategy of freedom," predicated as it is on the assumption
that states have a right to enjoy their national sovereignty only
under certain conditions, entails support for the anti-sovereignist
dictates of punitive supranational law. In internal politics, the
anti-state Marxist-Hegelian doctrine of "civil society"
has become a central plank of Western thinking, at least for states
it wishes to control. In Eastern Europe, for instance, supposed
"non-governmental organisations" are invariably presented
as being more authentic and objective representatives of popular
opinion than the established, public, law-based structures of the
state. This applies even when the so-called NGOs are in fact front
organisations funded by Western governments, as is often the case.
Indeed, the mere activity of "opposition"
is, by itself, often elevated to a sort of political sainthood,
as if the exercise of authority and power were intrinsically sinful.
In one egregious case, in Georgia, the task of counting the votes
in the January 2004 presidential election was given to just such
a private NGO, with the established state authorities simply sidelined.
Marxists, indeed, and like many of his European friends, George
Bush appears to believe both that freedom is an ineluctable "force
of history" and also that it requires constant struggle to
achieve it. He argues, like Hegel, Marx's precursor, that
humanity is one, and that a free state like the USA is not really
free if other states live under tyranny. In his mind, old-fashioned
American Puritan millenarianism marries easily with the missionary
mentality of world revolutionists: "The survival of liberty
in our land," he said in January, "increasingly depends
on the success of liberty in other lands." A true conservative,
by contrast, would say that there is much evil in the outside world
– and that the duty of a statesman is to hold it at bay.
Orwell is rightly credited with predicting a great deal, yet it
is an indication of how far leftwards the West has travelled that
his key prediction is often overlooked. Orwell saw that that the
Cold War would end on the basis of a convergence between communism
and capitalism – the very predicament in which we now find
ourselves. At the end of Animal
Farm the farmer, who symbolises the capitalist West, returns
to the farm and plays cards with the pigs, who symbolise Communism.
The shivering creatures outside "looked from pig to man,
and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was
impossible to say which was which."