The Sunday Telegraph
The new far-Left revolutionaries want to extinguish free expression itself
Ignorant of communism’s crimes, the young recruits to anti-capitalism place moral purity above all else
Who would have guessed that a generation after communism had collapsed with a whimper not a bang, anti-capitalism would become an apparently irreproachable force in the West? What is going on here?
On the one hand, there is a familiar Left-wing pattern of infiltration which has not gone away even though the people who originally organised it are no longer being run by the old outfit. Or at least, they are not being specifically directed by a central command as those armies of Soviet assets and hangers-on used to be in the more disciplined days of coordinated subversion. Now there is a much more chaotic, ill-disciplined mob of assorted malcontents and opportunists ready to join up and exploit whatever movement (Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter) appears to present an opportunity to challenge what they would call the “power structure” of western society.
Not altogether surprisingly, some of the old lags are still at it: those veteran fellow travellers who once joined CND at the behest of their Russian friends to discredit the West’s nuclear deterrent are now protesting against the West’s despoliation of the environment – while scarcely addressing the worse damage done by the People’s Republic of China. But it is the armies of younger recruits who are more alarming because, unlike the old soldiers, they know almost nothing about the historical sins of the ideology that they are espousing. Or even the basic tenets of the authoritarian system that they are – possibly unwittingly – promoting.
It is easy to forget that for most people under the age of 40 the crimes of the Stasi, the truth about the Gulags, the dangers of smuggling samizdat literature out of Russia, the deliberate starvation of millions of peasants and the corruption of the Communist party autocracies are unknown territory. Unlike the crimes of fascist Germany, which are rightly taught exhaustively to schoolchildren, the enslavement of the populations of eastern Europe and the economic system in whose name it was perpetrated are largely ignored.
It is quite difficult to understand the objectives of what appears to be systematic propaganda intended to delegitimise market economies and depict those who promote them as malign forces. Just how much of this has any serious intention at all? What would these agitators like the final outcome of their efforts to be? Arguing for reform of employment practices is perfectly justifiable and so is socially responsible company governance. But those things have become mainstream – in most Western countries they are legal requirements.
Something much more drastic and fundamental is being demanded by the military wings of these movements: nothing less than the dismantling of the entire apparatus of free expression and the principles of economic liberty. The fact that capitalism, not communism, delivered mass prosperity – and the self-determination that comes with it – on a scale that is unprecedented in human history is neither here nor there because moral purity (as defined in perversely limited Left-wing terms) is more important than “private wealth”.
Even stranger than the obvious ignorance of the basic ideology which gives a rationale to their protests is the curiously narcissistic tone of their rhetoric. From what I can gather from the collected pronouncements, this supposed social revolution is a form of personal development: a therapeutic cleansing of one’s own dangerous impulses or impure thoughts, a constant process of self-examination and moral renewal in which everyone must engage constantly if society is to purge itself of inherited guilt. All this inchoate, rather aimless rage against the system which is supposedly opposed to selfish individualism seems to involve a self-obsessed, exaggerated sense of the importance of your own internal consciousness.
It is so easy to take all this nonsense to pieces – it is not even coherent in its own terms. But the Cold War is over and the West no longer faces a power bloc that constitutes an existential threat to its survival. Is that why nobody can be bothered to argue anymore for the advantages of capitalism – constant innovation, the stimulation of choice, the rewarding of talent and effort? Having defeated a genuinely evil political system, the peoples who won are now accepting the premises of the old enemy.
Capitalist corporations feel obliged to declare themselves to be anti-capitalist to retain moral credibility. The very organisations which, through the miracles of entrepreneurialism and competition, have made access to that mass communications miracle which makes the activist explosion possible, must now denounce themselves – in the great communist tradition – before they can be tainted. We have seen the absurd spectacle of companies whose businesses embody the propagation of open access and consumer choice – mobile phone and broadband suppliers, no less – threatening to withdraw their advertising from a new television news channel, GB News, on the command of a handful of knownothings who declared it untouchable before it launched.
What kind of utopian society is this resurgent anti-capitalist lobby demanding? Or is this just anarchic troublemaking for the fun of it? It is, of course, utterly pernicious: an inverted parody of McCarthyism in which to be accused of holding, or being associated with, a forbidden opinion must be punished by ruin and internal exile.
Perhaps this is the most sinister part: this is not just a campaign to suppress economic freedom. It is a demand that disagreement and debate itself be prohibited. But the whole progress of Western history has revolved around huge, mind-broadening philosophical arguments: Plato versus Aristotle, the Catholic Church versus the Protestant Reformation, democracy versus aristocratic rule and yes – collectivism versus individualism. The West now seems prepared to give up on what is probably its greatest gift to the world: reasoned disagreement.
The idea that some views are too “toxic” to be heard, let alone rebutted, is to extinguish the very thing that has made it possible for even people who don’t know what they are talking about to have a voice. That really ought to give the Twitter warriors pause for thought.
What kind of utopian society is this resurgent lobby demanding? Or is this just anarchic troublemaking for the fun of it?