To the degree that the misdirection and inaction of China’s Communist government have been discussed in this pandemic, it is worth asking what the COVID-19 crisis has to do with Communism and its underlying ideology of Marxism-Leninism.
According to the dominant narrative in much of U.S. higher education today, absolutely nothing. A well-documented left-wing bias in colleges and universities, particularly in those considered elite, produces students who are poorly prepared to recognize such behavior. Compounding the problem, history plays a smaller role in secondary education than it once did, and civics has all but disappeared.
Today in academia, one is far more likely to hear about the depredations of capitalism than the ravages of Communism. Calling oneself a Marxist has long been trendy. One recent poll concludes that four in ten Americans support some sort of socialism or socialist policies. Another poll concludes that one-third of Millennials support communism. A 2016 survey found that Karl Marx is more likely to be assigned as a class text in U.S. universities than Adam Smith.
It seems that no history of economic failure, no prisons and gulags, no aggressive wars, no subversions can penetrate the prevailing framework. Nothing, it seems, can shake such a stubborn faith or such an insouciant blindness. Today, the overarching view in universities is that the global spread of COVID-19 is little more than an unfortunate natural event. Not caused by the Chinese regime’s repression, corruption, and flat-out lying. No one is to blame, and certainly not any particular political ideology. Or if there is an ideology to blame, it’s not Communism. Retired MIT professor Noam Chomsky blamed the pandemic on a failure of capitalism.
Recent Chinese behavior is repugnant. Chinese doctors identified human-to-human transmission as early as mid December 2019. Nevertheless, Chinese authorities continued to deny such transmission for weeks. U.S. intelligence believes that China concealed the extent of the outbreak and underreported the number of cases and deaths. It did not start to quarantine Wuhan until January 23, after millions had come to China for the Lunar New Year celebrations and departed for global destinations.
Since January 1, 430,000 people have entered the U.S. via direct flights from China, according to the New York Times. That’s just America. The global effects have been catastrophic: Scientists in a recent study found that coronavirus cases could have been reduced by 95 percent had China’s response come just three weeks sooner.
How could Chinese authorities have acted so irresponsibly, and with such disregard for the welfare of others? The answer is that China remains a Communist tyranny, with the Chinese people among its greatest victims. All of humanity is now bearing the cost. A democratic government might have been blindsided and mishandled its initial response to the virus. Indeed, many democratic governments did just that. However, whistleblowers, accurate reporting, and aroused public opinion have quickly forced a change. Not so under Communism, where whistleblowers mysteriously disappear.
China has been ruthless in its quest to steal research, control information, and gain approval. It has distributed targeted funds to strategically selected academics in American universities (as seen in this year’s allegations at Harvard University and the University of Florida), established Confucius Institutes on campuses to spread Marxist ideas, and engaged in a global propaganda campaign — a sophisticated, data-driven effort, aided by a massive social-media blitz — to portray itself as a worldwide savior, rather than a state with a lot of explaining to do.
The denunciation of Communism is left to those viewed as unsophisticates, retrogrades, or even racists by many elites and academics. Criticizing the Chinese Communist regime should not be viewed as a criticism of its people, and Communism should not get a pass because people fear being called racist.
While the Chinese regime has been credited by some for bringing hundreds of millions of people up from poverty, the credit belongs to the Chinese people themselves, enterprising and hard-working as they are. The regime merely got out of the way after decades of disastrous social engineering. Oppression still exists, particularly for Uighurs, Tibetans, defenders of civil liberties in Hong Kong, and outspoken people everywhere in China.
Although the pernicious actions of the Chinese regime are sometimes denounced by university professors and administrators, too often links to the supporting ideology are omitted. Many academics still ignore the connection.
It’s time for university educators and their students to discuss openly the flaws of applied Marxism and the enormous damage it has caused. We need a no-holds-barred, free, and open debate on the comparative merits of Communism versus capitalism. If not now, when?
If after such a debate American students leave college opposed to capitalism, then so be it. But never let them reach that conclusion without having first studied the murderous reality of what Communism has wrought for all of humanity.
R. Richard Geddes is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He is also a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, where Barry Strauss is the Bryce and Edith M. Bowmar Professor in Humanistic Studies.