DURING a visit to the opera in January 1936, Joseph Stalin informed Ivan Dzerzhinsky, a relatively minor Soviet composer whose Quiet Flows the Don he’d just seen, that his work had ‘considerable ideological-political value’. The Soviet dictator opined quite differently about the far greater personage of Dmitry Shostakovich. In 1948, with other giants of Russian music including Prokofiev and Khachaturian, Shostakovich was denounced and cancelled under a series of decrees sanctioned by the philistine ‘Commissar for Culture’, Andrei Zhdanov, for producing ‘formalist’ anti-proletarian music.
Seventy years on, and surpassing by some degree the idiocies of the Soviet terror regime, are the proposals by the music faculty of Oxford University. Following an ‘away day’ in the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the faculty deemed its curriculum to be laced with ‘white hegemony’ and rooted in ‘colonialism’ that caused ‘students of colour great distress’. It proposes, instead of excessive focus on Mozart and Beethoven, ‘exciting new elements’ of hip hop and jazz and ‘non-Eurocentric’ topics of study such as an ‘Introduction to Sociocultural and Historical Studies’ and ‘Artists Demanding Trump Stop Using Their Songs’.
At any other time, such nonsense would have been met with universal howls of derision. Yet today such howls are vented only by the brave – as they would have been in the Soviet times following Stalin’s comments – lest such deserved mockery is deemed racist or some other ist in the great Leftist gamut of ists and isms that pervades aspect of contemporary life. As cancellation beckons, few indeed are prepared to venture into the debilitating Soviet-Maoist world of non-personhood. These are peculiar times when Oxford University’s rulers can pronounce such vileness knowing that nothing can dislodge them from power given the near-complete decades-long Leftist march through the West’s mainstream institutions, to quote the German communist Rudi Dutschke.
The Oxford debacle is merely one absurdity in the routine Leftist assault that aims to replace Britain’s cultural and historical fabric with a rootless ideological ogre cooked up by communist ideologues. In this sense it goes far beyond the aims of Stalinist cultural policy which saw utilitarian advantage from some of the greatest achievements of Russian culture shoring up the Soviet nationalistic socialist state. The Leninist-Marxist internationalist pipedream of early Soviet years, all but abandoned by the Stalinist regime, now forms the backbone of the programmes of Britain’s cultural and political elites and their juvenile cannon fodder. The Marxist partisanship of British cultural and academic institutions, the cancellation of critics, the policing of non-crime hate incidents, the hounding of teachers out of jobs for declaring biological truths or censuring them for rejecting compelled speech, the imprisonment of parents for ‘misgendering’ their children, the kneeling of police officers and of football players in homage to the openly Marxist BLM, the statue felling, the rioting, the purging of British Library shelves of ‘white supremacists’, the ‘de-colonisation’ of academic curricula, the denigration of British history and much more besides are not features of cultural and political vacuums. The death of the habitual felon George Floyd was merely a convenient trigger for the long anticipated global mobilisation of Leftist forces. Absurdities such as these do not motivate thousands of people to street action and violence without first being taught uncritically in academic curricula for generations. And the multi-billion-dollar corporate and entertainment sectors do not comply with such programmes unless they contain powerful fellow-travelling allies or executives too frightened to do otherwise. A similar scenario permeates the political mainstream that has legitimised these inanities through active patronage or cowardice.
The sensationalisation of political discourse through hyperbole is never helpful and inevitably raises suspicions about the validity of an argument. But when political systems and social and cultural arrangements long regarded as sensible become so saturated with inanities that they resemble inane systems and ideas that have come before, any comparisons that may seem hyperbolic are legitimate on close inspection. A litmus test of such legitimacy comes when those who tend to be suspicious of outlandish claims come to acknowledge the validity of hitherto ‘conspiracy theories’. ‘Twenty-five years ago they all laughed at me,’ Nigel Farage reminded his detractors. ‘Well, they’re not laughing now.’
Looking at Britain’s cultural landscape, it is difficult not to conclude that it is teetering on a precipice. In his 1934 Winter in Moscow, Malcolm Muggeridge revealed the shocking truths of everyday life in Stalin’s Russia, the murderous Ukrainian famine, the brutality and cultural nihilism and how society depended on a constant state of hate, stoked endlessly by state initiatives to foment the notion of class war that justified the state’s existence. For his efforts Muggeridge was mocked and passed over for literary accolades in favour of apologists and deniers such as Walter Duranty and George Bernard Shaw.
The territory currently occupied by the race-baiters and sexologists of ‘Critical Theory’ and their divisive hate-laden messages has been well-trodden by Marxist revolutionaries. The society so chillingly depicted in Orlando Figes’s The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, in which a still tongue made for a quiet life, is becoming reality before our very eyes. And what is most unnerving about Britain’s cultural revolution is that the state, of whatever political hue, is increasingly on board. The passing of the Hate Crimes and Public Order Bill in Scotland by a coalition of Leftist parties all but extinguished freedom of speech there, and it is already being touted as a model for England by the Leftist quango, the Law Commission.
In any case, such laws would do nothing other than streamline existing censorious and punitive hate crime legislation to prohibit discussion of topics that the Left hates. The unprecedented empowerment of the state executive during the Covid crisis that has seen the legitimisation of overzealous policing and other nasty practices reminiscent of totalitarian societies, such as the licensing of government informers, has raised the spectre of a permanent transformation of relations between the public and the state. More worrying still, as the eminent former Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption has pointed out, is that such a situation has been seemingly endorsed by a public that has been subjected to emotional and psychological manipulation by state agencies on a grand scale, aided by a state media in all but name. A state of this nature would be virtually unstoppable in passing any legislation it deems is for our own good. Such a tyranny of ‘omnipotent moral busybodies’, as C S Lewis put it, ‘sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive’ of all.
Whether the contemporary dystopian realities do indeed become permanent remains in the balance. Perhaps, as Ed West depressingly notes, the average Englishman is no longer freedom-loving, and perhaps he never was. Perhaps he ‘would happily have a microchip in his arm if it meant he could go down the pub’. If this is the case, why should he care about freedom of speech, particularly if he has nothing of earth-shattering importance to say? But perhaps this is a caricature and all that Huxleyian complicity has been bought off by copious furlough (virtual) cash. After all, how is the Brexit rebellion consistent with such a model of indifference? Wasn’t that about freedom? Perhaps as the great unlocking begins, a realisation will grow that the prospect of a Marxist tyranny, just as the folly of the EU, is no longer the stuff of conspiracy theories. If it doesn’t, we may all have to get used to a dissonant tune.