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See that photograph on the wall, the miniature, in the copper frame? Take a closer look. Outrageously ugly, is he not? An “ugly fucker,” to use the coarse slang of your nation. That convex nose; the weak chin poorly concealed by a sparse beard; the unimposing stature; those squinting mole-like eyes, much too small, especially considering the size of his forehead. And have you heard him speak? The voice of a twelve-year-old, as if it didn’t break properly all those years ago, although he’s not as old as you might be led to believe by all those creases!
Do not be alarmed. The secret police are not about to batter down the door; I shall not be carted off to the Gulags for insulting the glorious leader, for abusing his image. We have no Gulags. We have no secret police. Our people enjoy not only freedom of speech but complete freeness to exercise that right; quite an achievement for a country which is not technically democratic. One crucial thing you must know is that the Chairman tolerates criticism, encourages it. I can see you are surprised. Perhaps, I humbly suggest, you shouldn’t believe everything you read in your tabloids, or even in the broadsheet you work for, that noble rag brimming with urbane dishonesty.
Forgive me: I must remember that the flashwar is over and we have agreed to put hostilities aside.
Try a soy-cheese cracker. Do you recall that this is a vegan country?
Yes, you gleaned this fact from the propaganda posters designed to vilify our way of life. “They’re coming for your egg rolls, your steaks, your bacon butties!”
The Chairman pioneered the concept of compulsory veganism, a radical dietary intervention which has slashed the incidences of diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Of course, the ethical benefit is paramount. It is plainly wrong to slaughter animals when vegetable matter can adequately meet human needs. But people go on eating carcasses. Decomposing bodies. Empty death shells. Why? Because dead bodies are delicious? Hardly a reason to murder a living, thinking creature… You do like the cracker?
Free food, enough to meet all nutritional needs, is provided for every citizen. The diet is bland but wholesome: oat flour, pea protein, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce is grown entirely by automated labour. The automation of our key industries means most people do not have to work. We spend our hours as we see fit: reading, playing chess, painting, bodybuilding, swimming. I myself spend much of my time writing short distilled poems in the style prevalent in China during the Tang Dynasty. Would you like me to read you one? Oh, maybe another time. We can afford this lifestyle because we didn’t pass reactionary legislation to ban robot labour as your nation did: our leader welcomed the machines.
The Chairman is a visionary.
He is also a good man.
Although fixed at the top of the ziggurat, he never abuses his enormous power. Repulsive only on the outside, he has beautiful inner qualities: patience, self-discipline, honesty. But his cardinal quality is kindness. You must know his famous saying: “If in doubt, do the kind thing.” This is no slogan or marketing gimmick. It is a formulation inscribed on the Chairman’s very heart.
The Chairman is kind. When you grasp this simple fact, you will have begun to understand our method of living.
Kindness explains how the Chairman succeeded where other idealists failed. The Chairman never resorted to base realpolitik to pursue his high-minded policy objectives because he recognised the hypocrisy of such a strategy. A utopian government built on filthy pragmatism would be like a gleaming palace erected on the site of a massacre. I have noticed that your compatriots often have trouble with our basic concepts; from birth the reverse is drummed into you – political idealism is naïve; capitalism is the only economic system proven to work; in fact, it is not even a system at all but just what a world with humans being humans naturally looks like; any communistic regime is doomed not only to failure but to mass graves. Famines. Tides of blood.
I apologise for chuckling. I’m not laughing at what I assume are your beliefs, or approximations of them. Actually, I was amused by the fact that you are, from one narrow perspective, correct. Communism – you see, I’m not a PR man, I don’t mind saying the c-word in front of outsiders – communism rarely works. Humans tend to be greedy, selfish and erratic, and leaders of left-wing parties have historically been no exception (despite what they profess or professed). We did not fix communism by actioning some transformative change to the underlying theory; there took place no profound recontextualisation of Marx, Engels, Lafargue.
We made it work because the Chairman is kind.
Let me give you an example. This mansion used to be the home of a slum landlord; while his pauper tenants lived four to a room, this man dwelt in the lap of luxury. After the Revolution, when we seized his ill-gotten estate, the landlord fled to your country – probably he’s back to his old tricks, filling draughty houses with the poor, those with no recourse. The point is: we didn’t have mass executions of the rightists. We put an end to their wrongdoing but did not persecute them. Most of them adjusted their outlooks and still live among us, at peace, equal to their neighbours yet happy as kings. The Chairman has always argued that right-wingers can be useful members of society: they are often articulate, polite, industrious people; conscientious, good at managing systems. We don’t oppress them. We even listen to them, take their suggestions on board.
Not everyone is as tolerant as the Chairman. For instance, many influential Party members did not want you, a journalist known for anti-communist articles, to visit our land. They feared that, rather than showing the world our functional and elegant society, you would only seek to defame us. But the Chairman overrode all objections.
The Chairman has a knack for integrating undesirable elements into society, getting the best out of them. He even blunted the knives of the extremists on his end of the political spectrum. After the Revolution, when his self-proclaimed Red Warriors took it upon themselves to round up the left’s political opponents and prepare the firing squads, the Chairman intervened. “There are to be no executions,” he commanded. “What is built on murder cannot prevail.” Some of his more hot-headed young followers were not satisfied with this decision, pointing out numerous historical exceptions to his aphorism, but the Chairman was unyielding.
The Party still has its extremist wing, those for whom no social change is ever radical enough, those who dream of stamping on enemy faces in a blaze (or cloak) of righteousness, but the Chairman keeps them to heel. Between you and me, the Chairman’s deputy is one of the bloodthirsty types. A former Red Warrior, he was one of the loudest voices calling for the executions of the capitalists. Yet his desired excesses have been subdued by the Chairman’s lofty, far-reaching, all-covering kindness.
But I have been talking too much. Your newspaper will be expecting you to report more than the ramblings of a petty official. Let us visit the hospital first, where you can witness how we tailor drugs to patients’ genetic profiles.
Sorry. You have a question.
What do you mean, what will happen when the Chairman dies? I don’t see what motivation you could have for asking this question, unless you just wanted to shock me, which hasn’t worked, by the way.
You imply that the Chairman’s death will create a power vacuum into which might step the next Stalin? You fear, or wish to make me fear, that this utopia of ours, losing its centre, the Chairman who is kind, will crumble and go the way of all other communist states, corrupting into a police state or merely a rebadged capitalist nation? That we will devolve into a crude tyranny, ruled by some political barbarian who salivates over virtue-flavoured brutality?
Ridiculous! This shall never come to pass. Your question about the Chairman dying is purely academic, for one fundamental reason:
We simply will not allow him to die.
About James McGovern
James McGovern studied English Literature (BA) and Creative Writing (Master’s) at the University of Oxford. He was selected as one of the "Best New British and Irish Poets 2019–2020" (Eyewear Publishing). McGovern’s poetry and prose have also appeared in such venues as the Oxford Review of Books and The Oxonian Review. He is Advisory Editor for Creative Writing Studies at Vernon Press.
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