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On China Seumas Milne has form. At Winchester in the ’70s he wrote a pro-Mao poster explaining that in Britain businesses from farms to factories should be run by “committees of workers” similar to China, and that “population control would be effected in a number of ways”, something that certainly worked in the Great Leap.

“Youthful excess”, one might sigh, except that Milne, a kind of hatchet-faced ideological Peter Pan, appears never to have grown up, any more than his boss, even if his schooling was more expensive. Accompanying Corbyn to China would be a big day for him, so he would be unwise to spoil it by congratulating his hosts on the Great Leap. No one in the Chinese Communist leadership today would dream of defending the biggest man-made disaster in history.

The turbo-charged history of Russia and China these last decades has ensured that what preceded it would be forgotten more quickly than in the past, so that when the clock is being turned back we understate the reactionary nature of what is happening, and the implications for Western policy.

In Soviet Russia communism did not wither and expire over decades; it died overnight. Long-time students of communism like myself felt almost affronted. All those books and articles and diplomatic reports — some of them drafted by me — had explained that the power and ideology of the Kremlin and the Chinese leadership were deeply rooted and would take time to change. I for one was happy to be proved us wrong. When I returned to China in recent years I didn’t think back to the vicious-looking Red Guards menacingly eyeing me prowling their streets in the Cultural Revolutionary years reading their wall posters — the da tsebao. Instead I looked forward to a sophisticated conversation with a young Chinese journalist or writer in one of the delicious Beijing restaurants, something I was never able to enjoy in the late Sixties.

On trips to Russia, where until recently I chaired the Russian Booker Prize for fiction — an offshoot of the British original — I didn’t think back to the hounding by the KGB of students I got to know as a postgraduate in Moscow University in the early ’60s. I was too busy talking — and drinking — with some of the most literary folk on earth.

More recent events suggest that we weren’t so very wrong about the deep roots of these regimes. Just as we failed to see the possibility of reform, today we have underestimated the tug of recidivism in both countries. Today nationalism, repression and paranoia are back, and East-West tensions with them. Not long ago humanity seemed on the road to the Kantian dream of perpetual peace. Instead of arms races, people were talking of economic conversion, as American defence industries and Soviet munitions plants retooled to produce consumer goods. In Russia swords really were being turned into ploughshares, or rather tanks into cars and baby carriages.

On top of that there was to be a “peace dividend” for civilian use as defence budgets shrank. Intellectuals were talking about “the end of history”, as the global march of democracy quickened and East-West cooperation spread. Today all that seems a long time ago, but it wasn’t: it is a mere 28 years since the Berlin Wall came down. Now the armed conflict that was avoided during the Cold War has broken out in Europe as Moscow forcibly expanded its post-Soviet frontiers to include the Crimea, seeks to re-establish suzerainty over Ukraine, and intimidates the Baltic states.
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Julian Pardoe
May 1st, 2018
9:05 AM
This is really a question for GW. Is there a reference for the story about "Russian children maturing quickly"? I put it to an acquaintance who studies the history of the PCF and he was doubtful. It would be of interest to us both to have a date or some other way of verifying it.

Peter Kolding
April 1st, 2018
3:04 AM
The author warns against any nationalist tendencies in Western policy to counter the threat of Russia and China. Yet he ignores entirely that the strength of both these countries has always depended upon the unifying strength of nationalism. The Russians have always fought for Russia first, the Chinese have always been Chinese, the inheritors of the Middle Kingdom. The West, on the other hand, has dedicated itself to 'post-nationalism' and looks upon national loyalty in consumerist terms. (Look at Brexit, with all the rage centred not on the peace and tranquillity that democracy is supposed to promise, but economic advantage instead.) In short, the East is supported by a fundamental loyalty from its people. While the West, a mercenary contract. This is important because the East has retained its populations' loyalty even after suffering millions of deaths at its own governments' hands. The West, on the other hand, cannot even control its borders without being condemned and subverted by much of its own population, without the least concern for the interests of their countries. Worse, in response, their governments take the path of appeasement and slowly, but surely, lose territorial control. It is this loss of territorial control in the West, caused by the policies demanded by post-nationalist ambitions, that have provoked the imperialist designs of Russia and China into action. The argument of the author that it's the personalities of Putin and Xi that propels their actions, but it is the territorial weakness of the West that has allowed this. The West, and especially Europe, has built a society that for all intents and purposes is made up and designed for the exercise of power by an assortment of fifth-columnists-in-waiting. The signal for treachery is simply a refusal by the government to devolve territorial authority to them. Currently, these politically powerful identity groups are happy to allow a limited power of arbitration to the government. But with the example of Corbyn, we see them exercising a far more direct demand for mercenary power. It may be an archaic observation to the post-nationalist mind, but God is always on the side of the big battalions. And the West is determined to be ruled by small tribes and gangs.

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