Lenin would be proud of today’s ruthless Red China

One week ago was the 150th birthday of Vladimir Illich Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik revolution and the first Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union. Few men have had such an impact on history as Lenin, and yet we are already forgetting both his legacy, and that of the collectivist ideology that he helped to spread across the world. 

Now, more than ever, we look critically at communism and the way that it operates. Lenin’s revolution in 1917 helped to bring a fringe ideology into the geopolitical mainstream. He, along with his fellow revolutionaries, established the first lasting communist state in Russia, and then set about spreading their collectivist ideals as far as they could.

Under Lenin’s instructions, Leon Trotsky was sent to bring the rest of the former Russian empire into line. Invasions of the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine led to some of the most savage fighting during the interwar period. The attempt to force Finland to become a communist satellite led to one of the most brutal civil wars in human history – killing one per cent of the total population.

In Russia itself, Lenin’s bid to establish a communist state was kept going through violent repression and the establishment of a full security apparatus. Torture, deportations, organised famines and executions were all used to maintain control within the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was also under Lenin that the forced labour system that would become the gulags was established – in which criminals and political prisoners were made to work long hours in remote areas under brutal conditions.

Lenin’s legacy of violence and repression would continue throughout the entire life span of the Soviet Union, until its final collapse in the early 1990s. Equally, his brand of communism would be exported around the world and find new life in Latin America, the Middle East and East Asia.

Today, Lenin’s ideology lives on in a handful of countries around the world. But the largest of these is China. Despite its best efforts to demonstrate that it has reformed, including moves towards ‘state capitalism’, China remains a communist state at its core. One need only look at the way in which the People’s Republic has approached the current crisis. Much of the communist party’s response to coronavirus has come straight out of the Soviet Union’s playbook.

In fact, it is true to such an extent that one could almost draw direct comparisons with the handling of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 – which incidentally took place in the Vladimir Lenin Nuclear Power Station. To begin with, in both cases the Communist Party ignored warnings ahead of time. Doctors trying to warn of the dangers of wet markets, as well as concerns related to previous Sars outbreaks, were ignored, mirroring the way in which the Soviet Union ignored warnings about the safety protocols of RBMK reactors.

Secondly, the way in which the Chinese Communist Party chose to lie and cover up the extent to which the virus had spread, including silencing doctors and whistle-blowers who tried to warn the rest of the world, mirrors that paranoia of the Soviet Union when it came to reporting on bad news, such as Chernobyl, famines in Ukraine, or disease in Central Asia.

And finally, when it came to finally admitting that there was a problem, the Chinese Communist Party, just like their Soviet forefathers, falsified the information that they gave the rest of the world. While the government in Beijing has admitted to the deaths of over 3,000 people in Wuhan, independent investigations have found that the death toll is much more likely to be in the range of 40,000.

The insistence on diverting attention away from the crisis towards how the Communist Party has sent aid to the rest of the world, follows a similar pattern of how in the early 1960s Soviet propaganda used to focus on how idyllic life was for those living in Moscow, or the satellite states.

This shows that China, just like the Soviet Union before it, is image conscious. Lenin knew this. In order to try and secure his image as a progressive and legitimate leader, Lenin drafted the most liberal constitution at the time. It guaranteed all sorts of rights for everyone, including a woman’s right to vote, the right to free assembly, and the right to a free press. China tries to present itself in a similar way – it talks about how technologically advanced it is, how great its education system is, and how safe life in China continues to be. Of course, like Lenin’s Russia, all of this has come at a cost.

Although both China and the Soviet Union severed their official relations with one another in the 1970s during the Sino-Soviet split, both countries continued to share key traits of the same ideology. While in the Soviet Union they continued to follow a Leninist path, and China a Maoist one, they shared the need to use force and fear in order to maintain control. 

And this is perhaps where China’s communist credentials are best displayed. China has used all the tools available to it to act against its people in a way that the Soviet Union could only have dreamt of. The suppression and disappearance of dissidents happens on a scale unlike anything seen in communist Russia. The creation of the so-called ‘social credit system’ means that people not only fear the state but each other, anyone in the community could be reporting back to the state.

And when the state feels that people are not in line enough, they step in and intervene. Families have been broken up as children have been sent to loyal party members in other parts of the country. The parents are sent to re-education facilities to force compliance with the state.

Perhaps the worst cases of this have taken place in Xinjiang province, where Uighur Muslims are being dragooned by the millions into re-education camps. Muslim men have been forced to shave their beards, women told that they cannot wear headscarves, many told to renounce their religion while being fed communist propaganda, including the works of Lenin. And it is not just the Uighurs, evidence has started to emerge that Christians, foreign citizens, and anti-government agitators are also being held in these compounds. While the Chinese government claimed that these are simply schools, the reality is that they are prisons akin to the gulags of the Soviet Union. High fences, razor wire and armed guards in towers only strengthen the comparisons.

And this is all before one even begins to look at the treatment of China’s satellite states. Lenin used force to supress Ukraine and the Republics in the Caucasus, China simply uses the threat of violence to supress Hong Kong. Much as how the Soviet Union used the cover of the Suez crisis to move in and put down the Hungarian uprisings in 1956, Communist China has used the coronavirus as an excuse to undermine the rule of law in Hong Kong and arrest pro-democracy supporters. Reports by Radio Free Asia and Human Rights Watch have seen a sharp rise in disappearances in what is ultimately supposed to be an autonomous state

Lenin’s international legacy is worth reflecting on. As is indeed the whole legacy of communism in the world. It is, therefore, a surprise that many in the West continue to try and promote such ideas and defend the legacy of Lenin. The Left across Europe and the rest of the western world continue to defend the legacy of Lenin and the communist revolution. They fetishise the regime he created and praise it as an example of what happens when a government successfully eliminates inequality.

Even today, many in the labour and trades union movement praise China for sending support during the coronavirus, while conveniently ignoring inconvenient facts about human rights, or even the fact that the virus itself started there.

As conservatives and classical liberals, we must continue to be vigilant of the need to stop the spread of communism and educate people about the consequences of adopting such policies. If we do not then we risk losing everything.

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