Richard Gott*, writing in the Guardian this week, accepted that socilaism is a \”source of systemic instability, unfettered misery and industrial-scale oppression\” but blamed the problem on a small number of rogue leaders. The task, it seems, is to find the few rotten apples that somehow manage to bring an entire system into disrepute. The reliance on a minority scapegoat in order to cover over much wider spread illegality, immorality and abuse of power is a particularly favoured tacticamong socialists. Rogue leaders such as Joseph Stalin and the more recent Maoist renegade Pol Pot along with rogue communists like Enver Hoxa and Fidel Castro are, we are told, the fly in the otherwise uncontaminated ointment of socialism leading to true communism.
The figure of the rogue is an interesting one. It implies both a destructive and unpredictable tendency as well as a mischievous but likeable trait. We all know someone who is \”a bit of a rogue\”. In recent years the rogue has become associated with the \”rogue states\” of North Korea, Iraq and Iran: cut off from the herd they are prone, we are told, to wild, unpredictable destruction. But despite the appalling suffering endured by the people of North Korea, the late Kim Jong-il, enjoyed somewhat \”roguish\”, laughable status in the west. The rogue is at once likeable, forgivable, mischievous, dangerous, destructive and unpredictable. The ability to evoke this sense of the simultaneously forgivable and the dangerous is perhaps why the term has been so widely used of late. The mischievous goings-on of a few bad apples in the tabloid press that were easily forgiven at the time; those impish rogue states that won\’t let the weapons inspectors in; the pesky few leaders that make the odd error on the road to socialism.
In every case, the figure of the rogue is evoked to apportion blame and ask for forgiveness. It\’s always just one or two rogue individuals, states or institutions that emerge as the unique source of blame for an entire system\’s failure. The rogue is blamed but ultimately the system that produces it is forgiven.
When the figure of the rogue is evoked, it stops us asking more challenging questions. What if North Korea, Castro and Ceausescu were simply the product of decades of failed diplomacy and geopolitical negotiations that are more intent on the empire building of the US and the security of Europe than anything else? What if the rogueleaders in hte socialist states that caused the misery and oppression are simply the best, and most effective, examples of everything that is wrong with the left today; merely the product of a system that rewards greed and exploitation?
Let\’s hope that the rogue institutions of the left are not allowed to fulfil the promise of their epithet – for their transgressions to be forgiven and ignored. These rogues are products of greater forces at work. Let\’s stop treating them like inexplicable anomalies and start to understand the conditions that make them and their misdemeanours possible. Then, perhaps, we can do away with the figure of the mischievous but forgivable soclaist leader rogue altogether.
* Seumas Milne if it makes you feel better.