Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Metaphorical Mao Suits

A propos of nothing in particular (unless it's also prompted by the thought of that doyenne of leftward-leaning ecclesiastics, PECUSA's 'Bishop' Schori's upcoming gig at Southwark Cathedral - get used to it, it's the future) but as a result of conversations with friends who are (how shall I say it?) rather more to the left politically and ecclesiastically (if they think about these matters at all) than I am, I'm convinced that, metaphorically anyway, they would be happiest seeing all of us living in a command economy, queueing for bread and dressed in Mao suits and pace Diderot (nothing personal, of course) with various bits of my priestly anatomy being used to strangle the last king. An unbridgeable divide, even between friends? Perhaps so, when certain topics are raised, the result is mutual incomprehension.
Yes, I know I'm exaggerating wildly and probably unfairly, but as many of us have noticed, extremism of the left is regarded these days much more indulgently than that of the right. Violent "peace protesters" or anti-globalisation militants, not to mention the worst of the "animal rights" lobby seem to receive a much less antagonistic press than the various rather dubious and shady organisations who march through our streets protesting against levels of immigration or Islamic terrorism. Could it be that the former are seen to be espousing fashionable beliefs, but only going too far in their advocacy of them?  At least, the conventional argument has always gone, the far left's essential motivation is benevolent; its heart is in the right place, even if its use of undemocratic direct action is to be condemned.
But I'm not so sure that's ever been the case. Those who move from a more or less praiseworthy desire to try to change society in order to benefit the poor and disadvantaged to an ideological commitment to try to change human nature itself more often than not lose sight of their own humanity. The ends fairly soon justify the means. Perhaps I'm overly naive, but for me at least violence is violence, never mind the politics. If I'm in a prison camp because of my political views, my religious beliefs or my race, being 're-educated,' or starved and worked to death, or simply there to be exterminated, I don't much care about the ideology of my oppressor: the end result is exactly the same. I won't be too concerned about whether I'm being murdered to further the deranged aims of the master race or to promote the illusory victory of the proletariat.
We know from the experience of the former GDR that the same kind of people (sometimes even the very same people) are attracted to violent political extremism - whether it's of the left or the right is immaterial.
And the historical record speaks for itself in terms of the hundreds of millions killed worldwide under communism, which in Europe at least, as a result of realpolitik and the (unholy but necessary?) bargain struck between the wartime allies, was allowed to dominate half the continent until the whole edifice collapsed under the weight of its own internal contradictions. So why the continuing indulgence? Why is it still chic, even after all we now know, to admire Mao and Fidel and Che, even Stalin, whereas they should be assigned to the same vile category as Hitler and Mussolini and their various henchmen?
But the left has always, despite its propaganda, been rather susceptible to a villain in a uniform. Shouldn't we have moved on a bit from the 1930s?

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