Let us express ourselves

It is a little-known fact that no government can do anything, without the cooperation of its victims. Of course that cooperation may be obtained by force and falsehood, but there will always be a few people who won’t play along. This creates a “technical problem” for the tyrant, which can also be solved by violence and deceit, but in the heart of every dictatorship there must be calculations. At what point do so many people want us dead, that they will actually kill us?

This is a political calculation, and it can turn even a genocidal maniac into a thoughtful politician. A monstrously evil country, such as Red China, can be moderated in this way. Superficially, it may sometimes come to resemble a bourgeois, Westernized, rule-of-law state, like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea. It may, indeed must in its own interest, pretend to be benign. But under sufficient pressure it has only two choices. One is to be openly monstrous, with all the risks that entails; and the other is to disintegrate.

My interest has been piqued as a China-watcher. Recent events have been bringing that kettle back to the boil. That the Peking politburo has been making serious mistakes, we may observe. It could not possibly have intended the Batflu crisis, which its own malign incompetence brought about. But as it tries to manage the crisis, for its own purposes, the mistakes multiply. Even the people it had diligently bought — such as our progressive journalists, politicians, and businessmen — are turning against it.

Within China itself, the unthinking default loyalty of the masses, has been disturbed. “Narratives” which conflict with the official ones are circulating, along with the virus — and even among those who “test negative,” as it were. These are people who would never rebel, but they become sympathetic to rebels. Moreover, the state’s image of invincibility — the Mao/Xi portrait, a hundred feet tall — is cracking. Imagined lines of contempt appear in the plaster. Chairman Mao, of course, is dead, but Chairman Xi must be sensing his mortality.

As the Soviet Union was collapsing from within, progressive Westerners tried to ignore it. This wasn’t something they wanted to look at, which is why they were all taken by surprise. The fall of the Berlin Wall inwardly distressed everyone on the Left. For a few years their confidence was shaken, slowing their efforts to regroup around “environmentalism,” or some alternative leftwing cause, that wasn’t in shambles like socialism. But eventually their smugness recovered, and those revealed to have been absolutely wrong about everything they had ever told us, were able to resume their status as “experts.”

Popular fear of the Batflu resembles our fear of Red China itself. It is analogous, at least circumstantially, to the “media wars” this old Cold Warrior remembers (most of which he lost). It is true that its allies don’t actually like the Batflu. Even Communist fellow-travellers, who had some acquaintance with the USSR, would admit that it “wasn’t perfect.” They denied being party affiliates, calling themselves, in effect, “anti-anti-Batflu” instead. They were opposed to that “inordinate fear of Communism” that the American fool, Jimmy Carter, decried. To men like him, it would not even occur to advance Communist interests directly. They did it from stupidity, alone.

Underneath, there was fear of the Batflu. If we antagonize it, what will it do? After all, it is very powerful. What if we failed to keep our six-foot distance, and it suddenly leapt at us? The wise statesman, in this analysis, will surrender whenever the Batflu makes demands. He favours “diplomacy.”

Whereas, I favour the approach of the people in Hong Kong, with their lives on the front line, who have been expressing their views undiplomatically. I was especially charmed, for instance, by the remark one Hong Kong demonstrator provided to a television camera, when asked for his advice to Mr Donald Trump: “Don’t trust China. China is asshole.”

Would Red China retaliate if we, too, were to express ourselves so succinctly? Of course it would try. Tyrannies cannot cope with loss of face, because in the end it is all that they have. And our freedom and dignity as human beings, is all that we have.

Courage, mon ami.