East Germans had a name for their version of ‘woke’ culture’; it was Zersetzung, or ‘decomposition’ in English. It was a form of psychological warfare deployed against citizens suspected of ‘subversive incitement’. There were several techniques to Zersetzung but probably the most effective was what the Stasi described as the ‘systematic discrediting of public reputation’ by eroding the ‘self-confidence and self-esteem of a person [to] create fear, panic, confusion’.
This is now the strategy of the online mob, who have become ruthlessly adept at degrading those they charge with subversion: Toby Young, professor Nigel Biggar, Germaine Greer, Ian Buruma, Placido Domingo, Sir Tim Hunt and Sir Roger Scruton are just a few who have been targeted.
Describing his experience in The Spectator last year, Young wrote that “my fall in status has been vertiginous…I have been surgically removed from every VIP list”. Young was brought down by some ancient tweets, whereas Domingo has been publicly disgraced by a series of unproven allegations of sexual harassment. “It is very easy these days to go against someone you don’t sympathise with, and to disseminate falsehoods,” he said in an interview earlier this month.
Those who whip up the online mob into a frenzy are overwhelmingly Zoomers but their indoctrination is the work of the Boomers. That generation of gullible idealists who embraced Marx, Lenin, Gramsci and others in rebelling against their parents’ perceived conservatism.
Someone who saw ‘woke’ culture coming was a former KGB operative Yuri Bezmenov. Speaking on US television in 1984, defector Bezmenov described how the KGB had for many years been conducting a campaign of ‘ideological subversion’ against the USA. The goal, he explained, was ‘to change the perception of reality of Americans to such an extent no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interests of defending themselves, their family, their community and country’.
Bezmenov explained the strategy would require a minimum of twenty years because that was how long it took to brainwash a generation of students. ‘Marxist ideology is being pumped into the soft heads of at least three generations of American students without being challenged or counter-balanced by the basic values of American patriotism,’ said Bezmenov. ‘The results you can see. Most of the people who graduated in the 60s, dropouts or half-baked intellectuals, are now occupying the positions of power in the government, civil service, business, mass media, educational systems.’
Bezmenov was describing America, but he could have been talking about Britain, a country where eight out of ten university lecturers now identify as left-wing and schoolchildren are marked down for “inappropriate” answers to sometimes politically loaded questions. And where university lecturers call Conservative voters ‘vermin’.
The internet, particularly social media, has accelerated the long march through the institutions into a short sprint. And so, as Bezmenov forecast, the perception of reality has been changed. Many in the West are increasingly incapable of reaching sensible conclusions. As Rod Liddle wrote recently, ‘we are now living in a world which could best be described as ‘post-real’, where truth and fact have no purchase.’ This is particularly true on the topic of gender; and, as JK Rowling has discovered, woe betide anyone who speaks out against the new dogma, even if they voice a consensus opinion.
Not so long ago, I visited the Stasi’s museum in Berlin, an absorbing insight into how they so artfully broke the spirit of their enemies. My interest piqued, I bought a copy of Anna Funder’s ‘Stasiland‘, which is a brilliant study of the Stasi, published in 2003 in the interregnum between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of social media. Asked by Funder why an estimated 189,000 East Germans became informers, an ex-Stasi operative told her: ‘Informers got the feeling that, doing it, they were somebody. You know, someone was listening to them for a couple hours of week, taking notes. They felt they had it over other people.’
The mob on Twitter has the same pathetic lust for power. As Roger Scruton remarked recently:
‘I have been as astonished as everyone else by the mass denunciations and targeted character assassinations.’
To avoid being denounced, East Germans learned to keep their opinions to themselves. This withdrawal from social intercourse was called ‘internal emigration’, and it’s becoming increasingly prevalent in Britain, a country where holding the wrong opinion in the workplace can result in dismissal or even a visit from the police.
The most chilling interview Funder conducted was with a Herr Winz, who worked for the Stasi in counter-espionage from 1961 to 1990. He was an angry old man when Funder spoke to him in 2002. Yet today, if he’s still alive, Winz will be delighted with the emergence of organisations like Extinction Rebellion.
“Capitalism plunders the planet,” he raged. “This hole in the ozone layer, the exploitation of the forests, pollution – we must get rid of this social system! Otherwise the human race will not last the next fifty years…capitalism will not last. The revolution is coming!”
It’s time to wake up to the online mob and understand that this is no passing middle-class fad that will blow over in a year or two.
Thirty five years ago, Yuri Bezmenov warned the West about the damage being done by half-baked intellectuals pumping Marxist ideology into the soft heads of students. No one listened. Now those students are the ones doing the pumping, not just in lecture halls but on social media. This perhaps partly explains why the majority of under-34s voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the general election.
Education, academia and the arts in Britain have for years been dominated by the left and, to paraphrase Yuri Bezmenov, their anti-Western dogma has not been challenged or counter-balanced by the basic values of British patriotism.
This month, the millions of men and women who love their country ensured a Marxist did not get elected, but in another decade or so Corbyn’s protégés will have the demographics in their favour. When that time comes, Conservatives won’t be able to crow, as they have since the election, that Labour ‘went woke and broke’.
Boris boasted during the campaign that Britain will be Corbyn-neutral by Christmas; Magic Grandpa may be a goner but his ideology is as strong as ever, and it will continue to grow until the Conservatives take back control of Britain’s education.