Marxism, Leninism, and the Crackdown in Hong Kong


In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Hong Kong police officers raided the office of the pro‐​democracy Stand News and arrested seven editors and board members. Two editors have been charged with conspiring “to publish and/​or reproduce seditious publications.”

Also last week Jimmy Lai, the former publisher of the better‐​known pro‐​democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, who was already in prison, was additionally charged with conspiracy to publish “seditious publications.” He had previously been charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” — shades of Orwell’s Snowball.

This crackdown on Hong Kong’s once‐​free press is repugnant to liberal values and has been condemned by scholars, newspapers, and elected officials across the political spectrum in democratic countries. But of course communist countries have never been much concerned with condemnations from “bourgeois” nations. And the rejection of press freedom in communist countries isn’t just a result of authoritarian individuals. One of the great socialist intellectuals of the 20th century, the bestselling economist Robert Heilbroner, was remarkably candid in a 1978 essay in the left‐​wing magazine Dissent:

Socialism…must depend for its economic direction on some form of planning, and for its culture on some form of commitment to the idea of a morally conscious collectivity….

The factories and stores and farms and shops of a socialist socioeconomic formation must be coordinated…and this coordination must entail obedience to a central plan…

The rights of individuals to their Millian liberties [are] directly opposed to the basic social commitment to a deliberately embraced collective moral goal… Under socialism, every dissenting voice raises a threat similar to that raised under a democracy by those who preach antidemocracy.

And there you have it. For decades Hong Kong, though it did not have an elected government, did mostly enjoy the “Millian liberties” of speech and press freedom, religious freedom, rule of law, and economic freedom. But now the Chinese Communist Party has asserted its control over Hong Kong. And while China’s economy is hardly Marxist any more, its political system still justifies itself on the basis of Marxism‐​Leninism and “a powerful state apparatus” in the hands of a “people’s democratic dictatorship.” When “the people” have decided that the Communist Party should rule, they can hardly tolerate advocates of democracy. And so the new Hong Kong authorities declare the idea of democracy “seditious.”

Liberalism, with its commitment to “Millian liberties,” is under fire from many directions these days. Liberals aren’t likely to have much direct influence on the CCP in the near future, but liberals of many stripes need to work together to resist and roll back authoritarian illiberalism.

Used with permission. Cato Institute / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and has played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is the author of The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom and the editor of The Libertarian Reader.