Magazine article The Spectator

Full Marx for George Bush

Magazine article The Spectator

Full Marx for George Bush

Article excerpt

Ever since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there has been a seemingly endless flow of selfcongratulatory comment in the West about how former communist countries -- and even some which have remained communist -- are gradually westernising and learning the ropes in the capitalist jungle. Very often, these countries' so-called progress is in fact cultural decline: the advent of bars for transsexuals in Havana, for instance, has been adduced as evidence of Cuba's 'liberalisation'. But the equal and opposite movement nearly always goes unnoticed -- the way in which the West has itself adopted many of the old nostrums of communism, and especially the twin doctrines of revolution and internationalism.

Revolution has now become a completely positive word in the Western political lexicon. Fifteen years ago it still carried -- at least for conservatives -- the negative connotations of 'Bolshevik', 'sexual' and 'French'. Not any more. The myth of revolution now wields such a strong hold over our collective consciousness that, with the compulsiveness of children who beg to be retold the same story, we regularly accept at face value fairy tales about revolutions in a faraway country of which we know nothing.

Being tabula rasa for us, these countries are the perfect backdrop on which to project our own fantasies: these tales invariably follow the same formulaic sequence, in which a dishonest or authoritarian or brutal regime is overthrown by 'people power', and everyone lives happily ever after.

Recent years have seen a spate of such 'revolutions'. The overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic on 5 October 2000 in Belgrade;

the overthrow of the Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze, in the 'rose revolution' of November 2003; the 'orange revolution' in Ukraine last Christmas; the violent overthrow of the president of Kyrgyzstan in March; the uprising in the Uzbek city of Andijan in May -- all these are presented as spontaneous outbursts of righteous popular indignation. Perhaps authoritarian regimes, rather like the walls of Jericho, really are brought tumbling down by the chanting of a John Lennon song. But before the fall of communism, 'revolution' and 'people power' were considered just leftish propaganda. We dismissed the Soviet regime's appeal to its own founding event as grotesque political kitsch, masking the sinister reality of power machinations behind the scenes. Now we seem to have become more naive, and have started to take these same two-dimensional archetypes seriously.

It often happens that, after the event, reports reveal that things were not as spontaneous as was believed at the time. In the case of Ukraine, for instance, it is now a matter of public record that the Americans poured huge sums into the campaign of Viktor Yushchenko, and that the Ukrainian KGB was also heavily involved on the Americans' side, playing a key role in stagemanaging the whole charade. To be sure, the fact that secret services may be involved does not mean that the people on the streets themselves do not believe in the rightness of their cause, or that the events are the result of manipulation alone. But the simplistic terms in which these 'revolutions' are presented by our media, and believed by us at the time, are so strong that they reveal more about our own inner fantasies and desires, and about the true nature of our own political culture, than they do about the countries themselves.

In particular, they reveal that the West has fallen in love with the myth of revolution. If Chairman Mao once said that 'Marxism consists of a thousand truths but they all boil down to one sentence: "It is right to rebel" ', that sentiment now forms a central tenet of Western political orthodoxy. One of the key catchphrases of George Bush's presidency has been the eminently Trotskyite concept of world revolution: on 6 November 2003 the American President specifically said, 'The establishment of a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution. …

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