East Side Story

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Leonard Bernstein, 1955

Leonard Bernstein (1918-90) was a genius – a profound, remarkably versatile genius. He was arguably the first world-class American symphony conductor, waving his baton at the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969 and serving as guest conductor of other major orchestras around the world. He was a gifted composer of classical music – producing innumerable symphonies, operas, chamber works, choral works, and even a Mass.

He composed the background music for On the Waterfront, which won the Academy Award for Best Film of 1954. He supplied the tunes for such classic Broadway shows as On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story, including such standards as “Some Other Time,” “Tonight,” and “I Feel Pretty.” He penned several absorbing, illuminating books about music for the general reader. And he hosted a series of network television programs that did a truly brilliant job of introducing young people to serious music.

But he could also be a fool. In the years after World War II, his close ties to several Soviet front groups led the FBI to pay close attention to his activities. Ultimately, the FBI concluded that he was just a naïf, not a Communist. Yet what a naïf! Tom Wolfe proved, once and for all, in a deathless 25,000-word article entitled “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s,” just what a naïf Bernstein was. Indeed, he was not just any naïf – he was the naïf whose naïveté, thanks to that brilliant June 1970 cover story for New York Magazine, became the very archetype of late Sixties and early Seventies liberal-establishment naïveté in the face of the trendy revolutionary politics of the day.

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Tom Wolfe

Wolfe’s article, as the title itself indicates, was all about a party. Specifically, a party at Bernstein’s “13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue,” where he lived with his wife, Felicia Montealegre. It wasn’t just any party. Held the previous January, it was, in fact, one of a series of parties thrown by various members of the Manhattan haute monde so that their hoity-toity friends could meet, mingle with, and contribute money to various radical-left groups.

This was a time, it should be remembered, when many prominent, privileged members of the American Establishment were getting their jollies, perversely, by identifying with fanatics who were hell bent on bringing down that Establishment and crushing its privileges. It made no logical sense.

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Sidney Lumet

But it happened. Only a week before the Bernsteins’ party, film director Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, The Verdict) had held a soirée for the Black Panthers. A week earlier, a prominent publisher had also hosted the Black Panthers. Jean vanden Heuvel, a.k.a. Jean Stein, the socialite mother of current Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, had welcomed the Chicago Eight rioters  to her home; a week after the Bernstein bash, philanthropist Eleanor Guggenheimer would hold a get-together for the Puerto Rican radical group the Young Lords

These upper-class hosts and hostesses were all, in their various ways, useful stooges, aiding and abetting some of the most virulent, totalitarian-minded enemies of the free, democratic capitalist societies in which they themselves had thrived. But thanks in large part to Wolfe’s article, Bernstein became the very personification of that memorable historical moment when thesmart set” showed its very stupid side. More tomorrow.

Cheering Mao down under

In recent years, thanks to steady increases in immigration, tourism, and trade, Communist Chinese political influence in Australia has risen dramatically. As Philip Wen noted on August 22 in the Sydney Morning Herald, Oz-based supporters of the regime in Beijing have organized rallies in Sydney and Melbourne, mobilized crowds “to drown out Free Tibet and Falun Gong demonstrators during President Xi Jinping’s visit in 2014,” and staged various “cultural events” down under to promote Red Chinese interests and ideology.

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An ad promoting the Mao tribute concerts

But the newest chapter in this history may be a bridge too far. September 9 will be the fortieth anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong. On September 6, a concert of “Maoist songs and dances” will be held at Sydney’s town hall with the goal of “glorifying the life” of Mao; three days later, an identical concert will take place at Melbourne’s town hall.

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Peter Zhu

These two events, which are entitled “Glory and Dream: In Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of the Death of Chairman Mao,” have a long and formidable list of sponsors, including the International Cultural Exchange Association (headed by Chinese-Australian musician Yuan Ye), a major construction firm called LB Homes Group (owned by Chinese-Australian developer Peter Zhu), two outfits called Australia Oriental Media Group and Australia China Media Group (both of which are paid handsomely by the Chinese government to churn out pro-Red Chinese propaganda), the fiercely pro-Beijing Federation of Australian Chinese Associations, and an assortment of other businesses, including Sankofa Funds Management, Shanghai Tiantong Group, and the Native Place Association of North-East China.

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“Charming personality”?

The promotional materials for these two concerts include the most eye-popping kind of pro-Mao rhetoric. Praising his “humanitarian personality,” they boast that Mao “led China’s democratic revolution which ended the 109 years of chaos in China from 1840 to 1949, and brought 76 years of peace and development to China, until it recovered its international status as a great country.” According to the concert sponsors, Mao is “a national leader forever in the hearts of Chinese people and a hero in the eyes of people all over the world,” and the concert “will interpret the charming personality and heroism of Mao Zedong from a variety of angles.”

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Chongyi Feng

Gratifyingly, there has been blowback – largely from Chinese-Australians, “many of whose families,” according to Wen, “suffered under the leader’s brutal legacy, the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward contributing directly to the deaths of tens of millions of people.” Chongyi Feng, who teaches China Studies at a university in Sydney, told Wen that for many Chinese-Australians, Mao “is just like Stalin to Russians or Hitler to Germans – he’s a mass murderer in their judgment so they’re very angry.”

“In their judgment”?

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Shangxiao Han

Not long ago, explained Wen, the Chinese community in Australia consisted mainly of people who’d fled – and despised – Communism. Now, the newer members of that community tend to be people who’ve profited from Red Chinese prosperity and who are, to various degrees, outright fans (and, in many cases, employees or contractors) of the Beijing regime. One member of the older, anti-Maoist faction, Shangxiao Han, is a businessman who’d “kept a low profile for more than 20 years” but felt moved to speak out against the Mao concerts and other such events. He and fellow Chinese-Australian anti-Maoists, who feel that they’ve become a minority in their community, have formed something called the Embrace Australian Values Alliance, which is petitioning to have the concerts canceled.

In a petition addressed to the local authorities in Sydney, the group expressed its “deeply concerned” about the September 6 concert and asked that they not allow it to be held at the town hall. Calling Mao “the biggest mass murderer in history,” they added that he

was personally responsible for massive tortures and persecutions resulting in the unnatural deaths of over 70 million Chinese people. He destroyed Chinese people’s traditional culture; he persecuted all religious believers; he torn down temples and monasteries; he banned all forms of democracy and social freedom. Maoism instigates violence and hate against Western laws and society. Mao and his crimes against humanity contravenes [sic] everything that Australian Values stand for.

So far, the petition has borne no results. Both cities – which aren’t involved in organizing the concerts – say they’ve rented out their town halls to the sponsors and can’t go back on those deals. But stay tuned. This could get interesting. 

A Maoist’s day in court

Six counts of indecent assault, four counts of rape, two counts of bodily harm, one count of cruelty to a child under 16. These, as we saw yesterday, were the charges of which a Maoist cult leader by the name of Aravindan Balakrishnan was convicted in December in a London court.

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Rosie Davies

The child in question was Katy Morgan-Davies, who was born in 1983 and who, during her childhood and youth, was beaten regularly and prohibited from attending school or making friends. Her mother was a member of Balakrishnan’s commune, the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, who died under suspicious circumstances in 1997. After Katy’s liberation from the commune, she told a BBC reporter that her father had “wanted the whole world to be like the collective where he is in charge and everybody is his slave.” Indeed, she said he “was using the sect as a ‘pilot unit’ to learn how to control people before taking over the world” – which made her think: “God, if the whole world is going to be like this, what way out is there? How am I going to live? I cannot live in this. So I used to think that the best way would be to die.”

mao-zedong1Katy had actually escaped once – way back in 2005 – only to be returned to her father by the police. In 2013, it was the police who saved her, plucking her out of her father’s homemade hell at a time when she suffering from diabetes and desperately in need of medical treatment. At Balakrishnan’s trial, Katy described the commune as the headquarters of a “hate cult” that “was full of violence and horror.” Calling her father a “narcissist and a psychopath,” she said: “The people he looked up to were people like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein – you couldn’t criticise them….They were his gods and his heroes. These were the sort of people he wanted to emulate.” She said she’d “felt like a caged bird with clipped wings” and had finally left the house because she “didn’t want to live like an animal anymore.”

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Judge Deborah Taylor

One detective said that Katy had been so profoundly indoctrinated that when she finally was freed from the house, she “genuinely believed…she was going to explode – that her life would come to an end.”

In late January, Balakrishnan was finally sentenced to 23 years in prison by Judge Deborah Taylor, who told him in open court that he’d been “ruthless” in his “exploitation” of his followers, that he’d “engendered a climate of fear, jealousy and competition for [his] approval,” that he’d treated his daughter like “an experiment,” subjecting her to “a catalogue of mental and physical abuse,” and that these were “grave and serious crimes conducted over a long period of time” for which he had “shown no remorse whatsoever.”

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Aravindan Balakrishnan

Ideologically, of course, what Balakrishnan preached was hardly orthodox Maoism. But in his intellectual tyranny, and his employment of physical abuse and psychological terror to enforce his power, he was a Maoist through and through – a man expertly schooled in the ways of totalitarianism. And the fact that this bullying mediocrity was able to draw so many followers only reflects the perennial power of utopian ideology to attract the gullible and psychologically needy.

A Maoist squat in London

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Aravindan Balakrishnan

In December, a court in London convicted a man named Aravindan Balakrishnan of six counts of indecent assault, four counts of rape, two counts of bodily harm, and one count of cruelty to a child under 16. The child was his daughter, Katy Morgan-Davies, formerly known as Rosie Davies, who by the time of Balakrishnan’s conviction was over thirty years old. Until being rescued by police in 2013, she had spent her entire life as part of a cult of brainwashed, browbeaten men and women in a commune in Brixton, south London.

A Maoist commune.

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The onetime site of the “institute”

Balakrishnan was originally from Singapore. He came to London in 1963 and was converted to left-wing extremism at the London School of Economics. (Not a surprising scenario, by the way.) In 1970, he founded a Maoist group called the Workers Institute Marxism Leninism Mao Zedong Thought – Brixton Institute for short – which, headquarted in a squat, ran a bookstore and a “meeting place.” While active in the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), he began to establish his own group of followers within the Party, whom he persuaded to obey his command and subscribe to his version of Maoist dogma – including his conviction that Britain would soon be “liberated” by Chinese Communists.

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Balakrishnan on a London street

So disruptive was he of the English Communist Party’s order and canons that in 1974 the Party’s Central Committee issued a statement saying that “after 7 years of struggle to unite together in order to strengthen the proletarian revolutionary movement,” it was suspending “Balakrishnan and his clique” from Party membership, because Balakrishnan had “tried to conspire to build a clique of people around ‘his line’ and establish his centre whilst still claiming to be in the Party, continuously saying one thing to the Party comrades and preaching and practising another to younger comrades and comrades under his ‘discipline.’”

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The house in which the commune was located

Balakrishnan established the commune, whose official name was the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, on the very day, September 9, 1976, when his “beloved Chairman Mao passed away.” The institute was shuttered (or went underground) after a police raid and mass arrests in 1978 –following which both Balakrishnan and his wife served prison sentences for assaulting an officer – but the commune lived on. Residing there with the Balakrishnans were several of his adherents, most of them women and many of them foreign students who “refused to recognise the legitimacy of the state and maintained a hostile attitude towards the establishment and towards the rest of the far-left in Britain at that time.”

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Dudley Heslop, a former member of the cult, with a scrapbook of its bulletins

Balakrishnan – who taught his disciples that Mao was a god and convinced them that he himself was one, too –allowed them to read only a small selection of leftist works, encouraged them to spy on one another, beat them, sexually assaulted them, and claimed to wield an invisible spiritual force named “Jackie” through which he could read their minds. Reportedly, he even “convinced his followers that he controlled the sun, moon and wind” and that any disobedience on their part would give rise to natural disasters. His goal, according to testimony given at his trial by a former cult member, was to create “a cadre of women soldiers who could withstand the sugar-coated bullets of bourgeois culture.” Some of his women eventually became disenchanted and left the commune; others who wanted to leave were actively prevented from doing so.

And what about Katy? We’ll get to her tomorrow.