Did you join in the outrage on Twitter when a Tory MP stood up in the House of Commons, read quotations from Mein Kampf and threw the book across the chamber? No, of course you did not, because it didn’t happen. Nor would it be likely to occur. Fear of attracting the fury of the permanently offended, politically correct leftists who police all public utterances would make quoting from Edmund Burke a hazardous operation, let alone quoting from a monster like Hitler.
But the corollary does not apply when left-wing genocides are cited in the chamber of the Mother of Parliaments. When John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor of the UK Labour party, quoted from the thoughts of Chairman Mao and threw the Little Red Book at his opposite number George Osborne this week it was treated by many people as a jape gone wrong. Tee-hee. A tad old-fashioned, perhaps, to quote from lovable old Mao. I mean, Mao’s not really happening, is he?
But moral outrage, of the kind that would have greeted the ideological mirror image of this week’s stunt by McDonnell, was conspicuously absent. Mao is treated as a joke. So, with more justification, is John McDonnell, who now claims his gesture was in jest. But was it? The specific lines he quoted, “We must learn to do economic work from all who know how…” followed by tossing the educative manual to the chancellor, suggests a serious message.
“I don’t support Mao, of course not,” McDonnell subsequently protested. Yet his colleague Diane Abbott, in 2008, defended the “positive” side of Mao on television. The most serious academic study of Mao’s genocidal career estimated the number of deaths he was responsible for in China totalled 65 million. Add to that 5 million more perpetrated by neighbouring communist regimes under his protection and you have a conservative estimate of 70 million murders.
No tyrant in human history, so far, has committed anything approaching that number of killings. Yet Mao’s image largely remains cuddly, as it did on Western campuses while he was perpetrating his atrocities. The enduring memory, for comfortable Westerners, is of massed crowds of ecstatic youth frenziedly applauding the twinkling-eyed mass-murderer smiling down from his plinth.
At the height of the worst famine in world history, engineered by Mao, staff in his kitchen diligently removed the husks from each individual grain of the gourmet Chairman’s favourite rice; in 1960 the death rate in China amounted to 29 per cent of the population. Call it a Great Leap Forward. Yet there are forums in Britain and elsewhere where praising Mao would attract less opprobrium than lauding Margaret Thatcher. The far Left’s economic precepts have always failed, but its moral bankruptcy is even more consistent.