Garry Kasparov, the former World Chess Champion from Russia, noted the "self-destructive spiral of the West": it damages its cultural heritage instead of defending it. Regarding the weakness of Western leaders, Kasparov told Le Figaro: "Where are the de Gaulles and the Churchills? I see a crowd of Chamberlain and Daladier.... I was shocked to see the rush to debunk historical figures judged by our current criteria. The West should be proud of them instead of hating itself". (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Today in America there is a new generation of exiles from Communist regimes fighting a new political correctness, called wokeism.
Czeslaw Milosz, before he was a Nobel laureate for Literature and author of The Captive Mind, fought two totalitarianisms in his native country, Poland: first Nazism, then Communism, which took its place. In 1945, after joining the Polish diplomatic service, Milosz was appointed cultural attaché to the embassy in New York, where he served until being recalled in 1950. In 1951, he defected to France.
In 1960, Milosz moved with his family to California, where he accepted a position at the University of California at Berkeley as Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures. His experience in the Bay Area was filled with a visceral revulsion for the new American political correctness. "When you stand at a campus window with a professor of German origin, watching them [the students] burn the library and she says 'I remember', it's rather distressing", Milosz wrote.
Milosz saw the future US ruling class beginning to grow. "To a large extent, the atmosphere at American universities is also shaped by people who were revolutionaries in 1968", he wrote. He also wrote that "These days you have to be 'politically correct', which means you have to be on the side of the blacks, against racism, for everything that's progressive".
When asked what were the differences and similarities between Soviet repression and the politically correct West, another anti-Soviet dissident, the Russian writer Vladimir Bukovsky -- who, despite having spent 12 years in a Soviet prison, could not find a US publisher for 25 years -- replied:
"Most of this crap originated on US campuses. I was at Stanford in the mid-1980s and watched with amazement how political correctness erupted. I had always blamed people like Stalin or Beria for censorship, but now I realized that many intellectuals want it too! Such people will always want censorship; they will always want to be oppressors because they always pretend to be oppressed."
Natan Sharansky, who fought the Soviet system from inside a Gulag before leaving the USSR for Israel in 1986, recently wrote:
"The term 'politically-correct,' which is popular today, emerged in the late 1920s, to describe the need to correct certain deviants' thought to fit the Communist Party Line...
"In the West today, the pressure to conform doesn't come from the totalitarian top—our political leaders are not Stalinist dictators. Instead, it comes from the fanatics around us, in our neighborhoods, at school, at work, often using the prospect of Twitter-shaming to bully people into silence—or a fake, politically-correct compliance."
Garry Kasparov, from a new generation of Russian critics, noted the "self-destructive spiral of the West": it damages its cultural heritage instead of defending it. Regarding the weakness of Western leaders, the world chess champion said he had recently looked with emotion at the rows of white crosses of American soldiers who fell in Normandy. "Where are the de Gaulles and the Churchills?," he told Le Figaro, "I see a crowd of Chamberlain and Daladier.... I was shocked to see the rush to debunk historical figures judged by our current criteria. The West should be proud of them instead of hating itself".
Lei Zhang, Professor of Physics at Winston Salem State University, happened to be born in China in 1966, the year Mao Zedong's "Cultural Revolution" began. For ten years, the Red Guards, mostly students, roamed the Chinese streets targeting dissidents, independent thinkers and teachers. "There was no free speech, you could not share values or thoughts if they were not Mao's values and thoughts", Zhang said in an interview with Carolina Journal. He currently sees a disturbing similarity in America's universities.
"You have people who now say, 'Math is white supremacy,' or that calculus was invented by this man of this race so it is oppression. This is stupid".
Zhang emphasizes what he calls a devastating effect on free speech:
"You cannot speak out. People in universities are mostly liberal, and so liberal politics go into the classrooms, but you cannot speak out to say this is wrong because they will have an effect. Even though no one says anything, people know who is liberal teacher, who is thinking differently. It is the free speech, no free speech that makes it so this is so dangerous. If you do not have free speech you are not free".
The risk for the future further consists of the brainwashing in the US elementary schools under the guise of "critical race theory". As Manhattan Institute's Christopher Rufo explains in USA Today, critical race theory reformulates the Marxist dialectic of oppressor and oppressed, "replacing the class categories of bourgeoisie and proletariat with the identity categories of white and Black". In simple terms, critical race theory can be seen as a form of "race-based Marxism". This appears to be why these exiles, who have known Marxism in their own countries, are alarmed by seeing how its racial version of "oppressor and oppressed" is spreading throughout the United States.
According to Zhang:
"When they tell kids, kindergarten, 5, 6 years old, that they are bad because they are in this race, or they are oppressed if they are in this group, and children cannot disagree, this is very bad because they cannot change their skin color or where they are from. They did not choose to be this race or that race, they are Americans, we are all Americans, and if we are fighting each other over this ideology, I agree with that when people say that this will destroy America.
"This is what happened under Mao and the Cultural Revolution. All the kids from very young are always told every day about you are in this status so you are low, and they teach to only love Mao and revolution. If you disagree or say something different they punish you, but not like men and women who may get punished, but they re-educate you to believe in Mao. You have no free thought."
Sun Liping, a leading Chinese sociologist, argued that while political correctness in America began as a way to promote equality, today it is "a burden, a kind of shackle America has placed on itself, a kind of self-inflicted bondage".
Yeonmi Park, the most famous North Korean defector, said she had always viewed the United States as a country of free speech and thought until she went to university there. She attended Columbia University and said she was immediately shocked by what she saw in her class: the anti-Western sentiment and the forced political correctness. which made her think that "even North Korea isn't this nuts", she thought. "I thought America was different but I saw so many similarities to what I saw in North Korea that I started worrying".
When she had been a child in Hyesan, North Korea, her father was sent to a labor camp for selling black market goods, sugar and rice, in a struggle to feed his family. In 2007, Yeonmi Park fled North Korea with her mother. It is a source of profound sadness, she says, to see indoctrination in America. "Going to Columbia, the first thing I learned was 'safe space'", she commented. "Every problem, they explained us, is because of white men". Discussions, she continued, reminded her of the caste system in North Korea, where people are classified according to their ancestors. "I thought North Koreans were the only people who hated Americans, but turns out there are a lot of people hating this country in this country", she concluded. In her former "socialist paradise," North Korea, the students were used to being silent. "My mother told me the most dangerous thing that I had in my body was my tongue," Park said. "So I knew how dangerous it was to say wrong things in a country".
Anna Krylov, who was born in the Soviet Union, and is now a Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, compared the ideological cloak under which she had been forced to live in her former country to the current politicization of scientific and cultural life in the US:
"I came of age during a relatively mellow period of the Soviet rule, post-Stalin. Still, the ideology permeated all aspects of life, and survival required strict adherence to the party line and enthusiastic displays of ideologically proper behavior. Not joining a young communist organization (Komsomol) would be career suicide—nonmembers were barred from higher education. Openly practicing religion could lead to more grim consequences, up to imprisonment. So could reading the wrong book (Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, etc.). Even a poetry book that was not on the state-approved list could get one in trouble...
"Science was not spared from this strict ideological control. Western influences were considered to be dangerous. Textbooks and scientific papers tirelessly emphasized the priority and pre-eminence of Russian and Soviet science. Entire disciplines were declared ideologically impure, reactionary, and hostile to the cause of working-class dominance and the World Revolution. Notable examples of "bourgeois pseudo-science" included genetics and cybernetics".
Fast forward to another century: 2021. The Cold War is a distant memory. "The USSR is no longer on the map," Krylov recalls.
"But I find myself experiencing its legacy some thousands of miles to the west, as if I am living in an Orwellian twilight zone. I witness ever-increasing attempts to subject science and education to ideological control and censorship. Just as in Soviet times, the censorship is being justified by the greater good. Whereas in 1950, the greater good was advancing the World Revolution, in 2021 the greater good is 'Social Justice'...
"We are told that in order to build a better world and to address societal inequalities, we need to purge our literature of the names of people whose personal records are not up to the high standards of the self-anointed bearers of the new truth, the Elect. We are told that we need to rewrite our syllabi and change the way we teach and speak...
"As a community, we face an important choice. We can succumb to extreme left ideology and spend the rest of our lives ghost-chasing and witch-hunting, rewriting history, politicizing science, redefining elements of language, and turning STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education into a farce. Or we can uphold a key principle of democratic society—the free and uncensored exchange of ideas—and continue our core mission, the pursuit of truth, focusing attention on solving real, important problems of humankind".
It is vitally important to listen to what those who have escaped from repressive governments say and write. They have lived through personal intimidation, political propaganda, brainwashing at schools and universities, and intellectual terror for a "wrong" word, book or idea. Today, those who fled from Communist regimes see -- most dangerously -- the same censorship and totalitarian suppression repeated in America's democracy. They know better than we do what freedom of thought means, and the price we must pay to defend it.
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.