James Bloodworth is a journalist and author of Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain, which was longlisted for the Orwell Prize 2019.
James begins his article with these words:
For much of the 20th century, a section of the western intelligentsia deluded itself that something worthwhile was taking place in the Soviet Union. There were of course those well-known, even notorious intellectuals such as Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Bernard Shaw and HG Wells, who travelled east to pay obsequious tribute to the “new civilisation” (the Webbs’s words). However, there was a wider array of apologists who filtered through into the Labour Party, the trade unions and academia.
The romantic penumbra that surrounds the dictatorship in Cuba to this day is a good example of the moral leeway still granted to projects that are nominally socialist, or which seek to transform humanity in some way. As Leszek Kołakowski put it, progressive hearts which are “bleeding to death when they hear about any, big or minor (and rightly condemnable) injustice in the US… suddenly become wise historiosophists or cool rationalists when told about worse horrors of the new alternative society”.
But the Soviet Union has been gone for almost 30 years, and today’s Cuba is mainly of kitsch value, its youthful revolutionary heroes preserved as a piece of sixties nostalgie; its diminishing achievements — education (Fidelista indoctrination) and internationalist healthcare (Cuban doctors sent overseas have been likened to indentured labour) — implausibly trotted out to justify over half a century of dictatorship.
And so a new generation of political “seekers” have turned to China for their ideological sustenance.
Beyond the mere worship of money and power, there is not much to like about the government in Beijing. The programme of socialist modernisation launched four decades ago by Deng Xiaoping has produced an authoritarian state capitalism overseen by a dictatorship which censors the internet, bans independent trade unions and pursues an aggressively imperialist policy in the South China Sea.
What the Chinese regime shares with the Stalinist USSR is contempt for ethnic minorities and civil society. Over recent years China has arrested a million Uyghurs and Kazakhs and placed them in forced labour camps. As Nick Cohen writes for The Observer, evidence of their criminality includes “wearing a veil or headscarf” and the “avoidance of alcohol”.
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