A Better Regime?
As the Chinese leaders are haunted by ghosts from their past, so are some China watchers, myself included. My ghost is the sometimes inability of outsiders to recognise totalitarian regimes for what they were until too late. Even Nazi Germany was widely respected until it took Europe and the world to war. We do not like to remember it today, but this respect was strongly present in all the countries that subsequently fought Germany, including among intellectuals. That admiration survived astonishing odds: the ever more vile, brutal, and racist dictatorship, the ranting madness of Hitler whenever he spoke. Many observers of the Soviet Union saw there a credible alternative to democracy, and way into and beyond the Stalinist period a regime that was in many ways superior, sometimes morally superior. This admiration again survived what should have made it impossible: collectivisation and famine, political murder as an instrument of rule, the pact of collaboration with Hitler to annex parts of Poland and the Baltic states, the gulag, the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Even when I was a student in the 1970s, in, of all places the University of Oslo in Norway, it was good teaching that the East European regimes, East Germany in particular, were in many ways superior to our own systems....
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