Lost in Translation

It may come as a shock to well-educated Westerners that Communists can be corrupt. Yet in 2013, “China was ranked 80th out of 178 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, on par with Serbia and Trinidad and Tobago, ranking less corrupted with tied countries Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama, and Peru” — and worse than Sri Lanka.  Most corruption is concentrated in the Communist Party of China because the party hands out all the goodies.


It’s so bad that scholars think corruption is China’s major national security problem. “China specialist Minxin Pei argues that failure to contain widespread corruption is among the most serious threats to China’s future economic and political stability.” Despite the recent boom which produced goodies to go around, the competition between factions is so great that last week China was openly wracked by the biggest purge since the bad old days of Mao and the Gang of Four.

To appreciate the scale of the purge, imagine a man with the police power of Eric Holder, the wealth of Bill Gates and the prominence of Al Gore arrested — together with US senators, former cabinet secretaries and hundreds of merely famous people and herded into a kangaroo court  — prosecuted by the equivalent of president Obama, in consultation with presidents Clinton and Jimmy Carter. The Sydney Morning Herald says:

On Tuesday evening, China announced an investigation into the 72-year-old former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, one of the nation’s most feared political identities, and a man who once controlled the country’s police force, state security and lucrative state oil monopoly.

Mr Zhou, as a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, is the most senior official ever to be investigated for corruption since the founding of the Communist Party – breaking an unwritten rule that standing committee members, past or present, should effectively be immune from investigation in the interests of party stability.


Purges are the elections of the left, but there’s nothing high minded about them. Although president Xi Jinping is portraying himself as Eliot Ness to Zhou Yongkang’s Al Capone, a long article by Reuters believes it’s just another power struggle. The fallen Zhou Yongkang used his position and the oil billions he controlled to create a network of patronage whose power became so vast it threatened to rival Xi and the CPC leadership itself.  Now president Xi Jinping is burning out the nest — and perhaps — redistributing the zillions to himself and his followers.

The Independent calls the ongoing drama as “China’s Corrupt Purge” — “the question the Chinese are now asking themselves is how much further the purge can go. If the anti-corruption machine grinds forward, the obvious remaining targets are Xi’s predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. But by lopping off eminent heads, it is not just the immediate relatives who are upset: the vast networks of inter-dependency on which China’s economic success has been built risk being shattered.”

But the comparison is a Western one, with its obsession with consensus and legitimacy. In Xi’s world politics is winner take all. It is Al Capone shooting down Bugs Moran and his associates on the Chinese equivalent of St. Valentine’s Day, for as Reuters puts it, once indicted “acquittals are rare”. Deception is part of Communist Politics. The Hundred Flowers Campaign was ostensibly about letting a “a hundred schools of thought contend”. Yet it was really an operation to lure dissidents out into the open. “Mao remarked at the time that he had ‘enticed the snakes out of their caves.'”


The world is a wicked place. Most leaders — whether they profess Communism, Islamism, Transnationalism or any other ‘ism’ — are really in it for themselves. But they attain it by weaving ropes made from the dreams of ordinary people, whom they persuade to loop around their wrists. Only when the civilians awaken do they feel the pinch but by then it’s too late.

The true currents run under the surface. The New York Times notes that Arab leaders are unusually silent about Israel’s campaign in Gaza because their loathing of Hamas is so great they are secretly rooting for Netanyahu. Deep in their hearts they are cynically hoping Israel will take out the trash to leave the field clear for themselves.

“The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents. “I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas. The silence is deafening.”

It’s the Westerners yelling in Paris who are the dopes; the regional leaders know that Hamas cares as much for ‘Palestinians’ as Mao cared about flowers.  The world lives on two levels; the plane of the popular narrative and the zone of power politics.  The way the Islamist game is really played was illustrated by a video posted by ISIS showing the mass murder of their prisoners. The Jihad is not about ‘breaking the cycle of violence’ or ‘advancing universal brotherhood’. It’s about ‘you lose you die’.


What is really striking about the expressions of the doomed in the ISIS video is the attitude of acceptance, resignation and absolute bewilderment as they cower in dump trucks on the way to the execution site. These emotions must have been similar to the millions of victims of the 1940s who died unable to believe the nightmare was actually happening until the bullet smashed their skull.

We often think of Founders as idealists when in truth they were cynics.  Or rather they were graduates of the School of Hard Knocks. Their experience with human nature convinced them that the least government was the best government; that freedom was not forthcoming from the king; that liberty was a respite from power not something Cass Sunstein decided you should have; and that dreams did not visit leaders in their kingly beds but individuals in their humble little homes.

And for confirmation they had the story in Genesis, set in a place not far from where ISIS is digging mass graves.  A story from the past saying that the only creatures who build anthills should be the ants.

it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and … they said … let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven … and the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded … and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do …

so the Lord scattered them … and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth

The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel

In the Tower something gets lost in translation. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.  The Narrative is Truth.

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