Commentary Magazine


Topic: Maoism

In China and Cuba, Totalitarians Trump Capitalist Engagement

One of the chief arguments in favor of President Obama’s decision to recognize the Communist regime in Cuba more than a half century after the U.S. cut ties with it is that increased contact with Americans eager to do business on the island will eventually lead to more Cuban liberty. This naive assertion was quickly given the lie by Havana as the regime arrested dissidents last week. But we don’t have to wait years to see if a totalitarian regime determined to keep its grip on power can fend off democracy despite the establishment of ties with the U.S. or even robust trade with American companies. The Maoist counterattack against pro-democracy dissenters in China tells us all we need to know about the foolishness of Obama’s faith in engagement with Communism.

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One of the chief arguments in favor of President Obama’s decision to recognize the Communist regime in Cuba more than a half century after the U.S. cut ties with it is that increased contact with Americans eager to do business on the island will eventually lead to more Cuban liberty. This naive assertion was quickly given the lie by Havana as the regime arrested dissidents last week. But we don’t have to wait years to see if a totalitarian regime determined to keep its grip on power can fend off democracy despite the establishment of ties with the U.S. or even robust trade with American companies. The Maoist counterattack against pro-democracy dissenters in China tells us all we need to know about the foolishness of Obama’s faith in engagement with Communism.

As the New York Times reports, China’s swing back to the hard left can’t be dismissed as a temporary trend or merely a feint by President Xi Jinping before he guided the country to a new path of freedom. The Maoist counter-revolution is in full swing in China and those who dared to criticize Communist Party corruption or call for more democracy are feeling the heavy boot of the police state on their necks.

This is a shocking development for those who count China’s lack of freedom as an annoying detail that should be ignored in the rush to do business in the world’s most populous country. Indeed, the U.S.-China relationship is now as much if not more about business than anything else as America falls deeper and deeper in debt to the growing Chinese economy. Inconvenient details about Chinese oppression have been treated as lamentable but essentially insignificant as the country became integrated into the global economy.

But the swing of the Chinese pendulum back toward Maoism is a sign that the regime’s decision to allow a degree of economic freedom should not be confused with a genuine commitment to expanding liberty. To the contrary, China remains a nation where the rule of law is a function of leadership whims while the increasingly strident leftism puts every dollar invested in China in jeopardy along with the freedom of those Chinese who have banked on toleration for capitalism leading to a more liberal state.

Far from the huge influx of American influences, the Chinese regime has not only rendered itself invulnerable to domestic challenges but also able to take back many of the freedoms that some assumed were now facts of life in post-Mao China. Xi Jinping’s China should not be confused with the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution, but the differences have more to do with the Communist desire to further development than any respect for human rights. To the contrary, what the U.S. has acquiesced to in China is a bargain with the devil that has allowed a potential economic and military rival to arise while retaining some of the worst examples of totalitarian tyranny including the existence of its own gulag—the laogai. If the leftist surge is not reversed soon, what the U.S. will have is a rival regime that is fueled in part by American-style capitalism while retaining all the aggression and paranoia of Mao’s evil empire.

The comparison with Cuba is also telling since, as has often been pointed out in the aftermath of Obama’s decision, President Nixon’s opening to Mao’s China had a strategic rationale—countering the still potent Soviet Union—and garnered the U.S. real advantages while Cuba engagement brought the U.S. or Cuban dissidents exactly nothing in exchange.

What can the U.S. do about troubling events in China? Nothing. We lost all our economic leverage over the regime when Congress bowed to a business community that loves commerce more than it loathes Communism and stopped the practice of voting China Most Favored Nation trading status a long time ago. But it is not too late to exercise some influence over Cuba. That is precisely why Congress should not vote to lift the embargo on Cuba despite President Obama’s calls to do so. If Cuba wants an economic relationship with the U.S. it is going to have to pay for it in freedom for its people. Any arguments to the contrary are decisively silenced by the spectacle of the return of Maoism in China.

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Former Maoists Stalk Dutch Election

Like bees swarming to a honey pot, Europe’s extremist parties have wasted no time in seizing upon the Eurozone crisis to garner an electoral boost. In Greece, back in June, an assortment of unreconstructed communist and neo-Nazi parties won 101 out of 300 possible seats in the election. Next week, it’s the turn of the comparatively sensible (and far more prosperous) Dutch to decide whether they want a government based on prudence, or one based on protest.

Although a small majority of Greeks opted, at the very last moment, for a center-right coalition, political debate in the run-up to their election was dominated by talk of an extremist victory. That has also been the case in The Netherlands. For weeks, the Dutch press has been ruminating on the likelihood that the far left Socialist Party will triumph on September 12.

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Like bees swarming to a honey pot, Europe’s extremist parties have wasted no time in seizing upon the Eurozone crisis to garner an electoral boost. In Greece, back in June, an assortment of unreconstructed communist and neo-Nazi parties won 101 out of 300 possible seats in the election. Next week, it’s the turn of the comparatively sensible (and far more prosperous) Dutch to decide whether they want a government based on prudence, or one based on protest.

Although a small majority of Greeks opted, at the very last moment, for a center-right coalition, political debate in the run-up to their election was dominated by talk of an extremist victory. That has also been the case in The Netherlands. For weeks, the Dutch press has been ruminating on the likelihood that the far left Socialist Party will triumph on September 12.

It’s certainly been a heady period. Just a year ago, Emile Roemer, the leader of the Socialist Party, would have been pleased with a mention of his name in the media, never mind the following encomium from the pages of The Economist, whose correspondent described him as an “eternally smiling man who casually shrugs off euro-zone rules on budget deficits and promises to preserve the generous Dutch welfare system.”

However jolly Roemer may seem — some Dutch journalists have affectionately nicknamed him “Fozzie Bear” — it needs to be remembered that his party is rooted in an ideology of misery and terror. Before becoming the Socialist Party, the party’s name was the distinctly chilling Communist Party of the Netherlands – Marxist-Leninist. The “Marxist-Leninist” suffix was the “scientifically” acceptable euphemism for Maoism, an especially brutal form of totalitarianism that caused the deaths of at least 60 million people. Members of Marxist-Leninist groups regarded China, rather than the Soviet Union, as the cradle of socialist hopes — and when China’s market reforms propelled the country onto the dreaded path of “revisionism,” the more zealous of these zealots transferred their loyalties to Enver Hoxha’s Albania, a country where the communists ruled in a manner similar to North Korea.

Though Holland’s Socialist Party no longer talks about Marxism-Leninism, it hasn’t totally abandoned its associated symbols, just tried to make them a little easier on the eye. The party’s logo resembles an overripe tomato crowned by a communist star. As for its policies, these are a throwback to the days of the New Left, along with a more recently acquired enmity towards the European Union.

Most worrying of all, the likely Foreign Minister in a Socialist Party government is an ardent anti-Zionist named Harry van Bommel. Van Bommel’s hatred of Israel is not a mere footnote in his career; in common with other European leftists, opposition to “Zionism” is one of his defining characteristics as a politician. In January 2009, he led a protest in the center of Amsterdam against Israel’s defensive military operation in Gaza. As van Bommel bellowed his support for a renewed intifada against Israel, his fellow protestors began chanting a charming ditty that is sometimes heard at Dutch soccer matches: “Hamas, Hamas, Joden aan het gas” (“Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”)

Bram Moskowicz, a prominent Dutch attorney, promptly filed a complaint with the Dutch justice ministry, accusing van Bommel of inciting violence and promoting discrimination against Jews. Responding to Moskowicz, van Bommel denied that he’d heard the anti-Semitic chant. That was a naked lie, as demonstrated by this clip on YouTube. At about 1:25, you can clearly hear the mainly Islamist demonstrators behind van Bommel chanting about gassing the Jews with real vigor.

It’s reasonable to assume that a Dutch Foreign Ministry under van Bommel would exercise similar vigor in undoing the policies of the previous incumbent, the academic Uri Rosenthal. The son of Holocaust survivors, and the husband of an Israeli citizen, Rosenthal turned The Netherlands into the most pro-Israel and pro-American member state of the European Union. In January 2011, he confronted a liberal church organization, ICCO — described by one leading member of the Dutch Jewish community as behaving like a “state within a state” ­– over its use of public funds to support the US-based website, Electronic Intifada, as well as a speaking tour by the site’s editor, Ali Abunimah, who, like van Bommel, favors the destruction of the state of Israel.

Are we really faced with the prospect of a Dutch government whose policies will include withdrawal from NATO, a boycott of Israel, and support for the anti-austerity movements which have mushroomed in opposition to the EU (an outcome which, incidentally, Margaret Thatcher predicted long ago?) Until last week, the answer was yes. However, the Socialist Party’s fortunes have since taken a dive. As Reuters reports from Amsterdam, there is a general consensus that the two victors in a series of televised debates were Marc Rutte, the caretaker prime minister who leads the center-right VVD party, and Diederik Samsom, the leader of the moderate Labor Party, the PvdA. Like the Greeks, the Dutch may have realized that however attractive the politics of opposition may be in times of strife, these cannot be sustained in government.

If the Socialist Party crashes next week, it will be another sign that Europe’s leftists have failed to capitalize on the wave of protest that coalesced around the Iraq war a decade ago. At the same time, the key word is “if.” On Wednesday night, we’ll know whether we can breathe easy.

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