Impromptus

The wreckage of Marx, &c.

Left-wing activists rest at the foot of the Karl Marx monument in Chemnitz, Germany, May 1, 2018. (Matthias Rietschel/Reuters)
A debate over Marxism; Hong Kong and Tiananmen Square; a brave woman in Cuba; the tragedy of the GOP; and more

The Cambridge Union, at the university over in England, staged a debate: “This house believes that Marx was right.” Really? Really. Speaking for the proposition — though not wholeheartedly, as he said at the outset — was Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosopher. Speaking against the proposition was Daniel Hannan, the British writer and politician.

You can see the debate on YouTube, here.

It was not really a fair fight. Žižek was at a disadvantage: English is not his native tongue (though he speaks good English, and he holds a pretty spiffy British position: international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London). What’s more, he had to defend Marx and Marxism (even if not with a whole heart).

How could there be such a debate today? After more than a hundred years of experience with Marxism, if you start from 1917? Isn’t arguing for Marx like arguing for a flat earth? Or for smallpox? Yet debate is sadly necessary, for people fall for Marx and Marxism generation after generation.

Daniel Hannan does a superb job, and a stirring one. He is morally serious, well informed, and effortlessly articulate. He gives Marx and Marxism a pasting for the ages. It makes you proud to know him, if you do (as I am lucky enough to do).

Hannan begins by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, Karl Marx devised the most lethal ideology ever produced by human intelligence. In the grim reckoning of murder, Marxism stands unchallenged.” Yes. Elie Kedourie once gave David Pryce-Jones a piece of advice: “Keep your eye on the corpses.” Under Marxism, there are many corpses — millions upon millions — to keep an eye on.

Well, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, right? But, as Orwell said, where’s the omelette? The murder and other cruelty aside, what is the material record of Marxism? Poverty, misery, starvation.

There was once a joke: “If the Eskimos ever went socialist, they’d have to import ice.” In Cuba, that joke was no joke: Under Fidel Castro, this famously sugar-producing nation had to import sugar.

As Hannan says, the world has provided us with some pretty neat comparisons: West Germany and East Germany; Taiwan and the PRC; South Korea and North Korea. Whaddaya like?

And people vote with their feet. In the 1980s, Caspar Weinberger made a compelling point: Along the border between West Germany and East Germany, soldiers were facing the same way: east. The West German soldiers were facing east in order to guard against attack; the East German soldiers were facing the same way in order to keep people in — to shoot them if they tried to escape.

In Cuba, they have shot them in the water, as people try to get away on homemade rafts or anything else that can float.

“Ah, but Marxism has never been truly tried!” people say. “In the past, we have had false Marxism. Next time we’ll get it right!” No one ever says this about fascism, as Hannan points out. No one ever says, “Adolf and Benito and the boys — they weren’t real fascists. You’ll love the real thing, which will bring a delicious tomorrow!”

Hannan ends by saying that Karl Marx has become — almost 140 years after his death — the one thing he would have despised above all: “the bearded prophet of a false religion.”

• You know that Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus, has committed a hijacking. He forced down a plane traveling from Athens to Vilnius. He did so in order to seize a journalist aboard the plane: Roman Protasevich, age 26, a Belarusian who opposes the regime.

As the plane was descending to Minsk, Protasevich put his head between his knees and said, “They’re going to execute me.”

They have not executed him. They have tortured him. This is plain from a video that Protasevich was forced to make: a videotaped confession. In this video, you can see evil on display. (I will not link to it, but anyone can find it, if he wants to.)

Okay — what to do? Dictators act brazenly — they hijack planes, they torture journalists — because they can. Because they can get away with it. As Garry Kasparov says, the likes of Lukashenko and Putin never ask, “Why?” They ask, “Why not?”

They ought to pay a price, Lukashenko and his friend in the Kremlin, and all like them.

• In his invaluable novel 1984, Orwell gave us a memorable concept: the memory hole. For the past 32 years, the Chinese government has tried to memory-hole the Tiananmen Square massacre, which they committed on June 4, 1989.

Here is the unfortunate truth: They have been successful, at this memory-holing. Mention of the massacre is strictly forbidden in China. Large swaths of the population know nothing about it. How could they?

Hong Kong has long been an exception. Traditionally, there is a candlelight vigil on June 4 in Victoria Park. But Hong Kong has changed, or been changed: It is a city like any other in China. In other words, it is unfree. The rights that Hong Kongers once enjoyed, they no longer enjoy. Participation in a June 4 vigil is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Let me quote from a Reuters report: “This year, with thousands of police deployed across the city, some marked the anniversary in churches or at home amid fears of being arrested.”

There were people gathered in, or near, Victoria Park, too. Some held candles; some held their smartphone, with its light on. An unknown number were arrested — including Chow Hang Tung, the vice-chairwoman of the group that has traditionally organized the vigil.

I was struck by what Derek Chu, a district councilor, said: “Being able to have a memory is a basic human right. Taking that away is beyond anyone’s authority. We need to remember those people who have been sacrificed for democracy in the past.”

• Earlier this week, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy took place. One of the speakers was Tania Bruguera, a Cuban artist. She was scheduled to give her testimony by video. But the Cuban government cut off her access to the Internet. At great risk to herself, she got around this — delivering her remarks (in both Spanish and English) in an “audio message.”

You can hear her — and read her testimony — here. She begins a long series of paragraphs with the word “imagine”: “Imagine yourself walking on the streets with a friend and, suddenly, a car stops and four people emerge from the car” — etc.

This is powerful testimony, from a very, very brave woman.

• Brad Raffensperger is the secretary of state of Georgia. Though a Republican himself, he is a villain to the Republican Party, because he refused to lie for Trump after the November election. Despite great pressure — including from Trump himself — he refused to say that the election in Georgia was illegitimate.

On Thanksgiving Day, Trump said of Raffensperger, “He’s an enemy of the people.” Raffensperger and his wife received death threats and rape threats. They had to have 24-hour security.

Last Saturday, Raffensperger was formally censured by the Georgia Republican Party. Badge of honor, as far as I’m concerned. America — any democracy — depends on such people as Brad Raffensperger.

• Reports the Washington Post,

George P. Bush’s campaign video does not mention the Republican political dynasty that preceded him. Not his father, the former governor of Florida. Nor his uncle, the 43rd president of the United States. Nor his grandfather, the 41st.

The video does pay homage to former president Donald Trump.

(Full article here.)

The words of Bob Dylan are perpetually quotable: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

• Dylan aside, would you like a little music? For my “livestream chronicle” in the current New Criterion, go here. For a quick post about a marvelous piano concerto — recently “streamed” by Yuja Wang and the London Symphony Orchestra — go here.

• I hope you have a beautiful month, no matter the ugliness in the world. This time of year, I think of a line from James Russell Lowell: “And what is so rare as a day in June?” See you later.

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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