An Orwellian spelling change

Why, within a historic blink of the eye, within perhaps the last couple of years, has virtually everyone—including magazines, including book publishing houses, even including many right-wingers—stopped capitalizing the words “Communist” and “Communism”?

Communist is the name of a political party or group of political parties: the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party USA, the Communist International (Comintern), the French Communist Party, the Italian Communist Party, and so on. Every person who has ever been referred to as a Communist, ranging from Vladimir Lenin to Ho Chi Minh to Gus Hall to Angela Davis, has been called such because he was a member of that party (or, more colloquially, because he belonged to a Communist front organization or otherwise shared the Communist ideology and goals). Communist and Communism are proper names, and have always been treated as such. Why then has the word suddenly been reduced to lower case? “Nazi,” meanwhile, continues to be capitalized.

I can only suspect that the makers of these rules—liberals all—decided to start putting Communism in lower case so as to diminish the historic importance—and the vast totalitarian evil—of Communism, so that it would only seem like a tendency, a vague, general attitude, not an organized movement, party, and ideology that sought to control the world and for a long time did control a very large part of it, and that still controls China, although the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party has of course been changed in key respects allowing free business enterprise, though not other types of freedom.

At VFR, Communist and Communism will continue to be capitalized, as will “the West” and “Western civilization,” which more and more people in this country—following the wimpy, apologetic British who don’t even consider the name of their own civilization a proper name—have been spelling in lower case. Indeed, the way the Brits have been going, in another five years they’ll be spelling British as british.

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Michael P. writes:

I’ve always thought that “communist” was meant to describe economic theory, as opposed to “Communist” which refers to a political system.

I would write a sentence the the following way: “John believes in a certain set of economic principles, and is thus a communist.” Mark belongs to the CP, and is a Communist.”

Thus, some say that Jesus and his disciples were communist because of a communal way of living (beats me if it was true, but some say it). However to claim that Jesus was a Communist, would be wrong.

LA replies:

Yes, of course, “communism” lower case denotes a general condition of economic equality and sharing, as when people speak of the “primitive communism” of the early Christians.

But that’s not the issue here. It is Communism in the modern sense of the Communist party and the Communist ideology that has been lower-cased.

Mark K. writes:

I was at an Atlanta Barnes and Noble bookstore today and noticed a section entitled “Thought Provoking Books.” This corner contained books about atheism by Hitchens, Dennett, Harris and Dawkins. Books about God of course were elsewhere—in the “religion” section—obviously not falling under the category of “Thought Provoking Books.” Ah, the neutrality of booksellers…

LA replies:

Yes, it’s funny to think that, say, the parables of Jesus, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, or Augustine’s discussion of the nature of evil in The City of God don’t rank as “thought-provoking.”

LA writes:

As an example of the lower-casing of “Communism,” even by conservatives, look at these excerpts from former UN ambassador John R. Bolton’s recent article, “One world? Obama’s on a different planet” in the Los Angeles Times (though the spelling may have been the editors’ rather than Bolton’s):

The Berlin Wall itself was not built because of a failure of communication but because of the implacable hostility of communism toward freedom.

In Germany in the later years of the Cold War, Ostpolitik—“eastern politics,” a policy of rapprochement rather than resistance—continuously risked a split in the Western alliance and might have allowed communism to survive. The U.S. president who made the final successful assault on communism, Ronald Reagan, was derided by many in Europe as not very bright, too unilateralist and too provocative….

The successes Obama refers to in his speech—the defeat of Nazism, the Berlin airlift and the collapse of communism…

August 13

In reply to a comment Ron L. posted in the thread, “The Russia quandary,” LA writes to Ron L.

On a side point, you of all people, with your background in 20th century history, should know that Communist and Communism should be capitalized. It’s the name of a party and an ideology. It’s a proper name. Always has been capitalized. I just wrote about this the other day. We’ve not talking about some vague desire for equality, but of the modern Communist Party which took over and controlled Russia and many other countries.

It makes me crazy that this word, which has always been capitalized, is suddenly being spelled by everyone in lower case, as though the Pod people had taken over.

Ron L. replies:

I disagree. Not all references to “communist” even in terms of Russia or the USSR are about the Bolsheviks or the Communist Party. Communism exists in Russia after the formal end of the Soviet Communist Party. Had I meant the Communist Party of the USSR, I would have written that or CP-USSR. Would you capitalize all uses of the word “conservative” or “liberal” in regards to Great because of the existence of the Conservative Party and Liberal Party?

LA replies:

In the case of the Conservative Party in Britain, of course that is capitalized. But in the case of conservatism generally, even in Britain (e.g., “the conservative British columnist Leo McKinstry”), or American conservatism (e.g., “the conservative movement”), it’s not capitalized, because it’s not a formal thing, it’s a general tendency. In the same way that a person who belongs to the Democratic Party in the U.S. is a Democrat, but a person who generally believes in and is advancing democracy is a democrat.

But in the case of Communism, as I explained at VFR a few days ago, literally every single person called a Communist in the 20th century has been a member of a Communist party, or of a Communist front group, or was a close ally of the Communist party. Even when we speak metaphorically of liberals as Communists it’s capitalized, because what we’re suggesting is that they are essentially allies and supporters of … Communism.

There is no Communism in modern times that not been the Communism associated with Marxism-Leninism and the Communist Party and the Communist ideology. Therefore every use of it should be capitalized. The only time that the lower case is called for is when one is speaking of some general, amorphous condition of complete equality, as in “primitive communism.”

But look at the way you use it:

Until such time as the Russians repudiate communism, there is no such thing as legitimate official Russian nationalism.

Or this:

Until then it is mere communist revanchism, flavored by Russian irredentism.

You’re talking about the Communism of the Communist-led Soviet Union! How do you justify putting it in the lower case?

Ron L. replies:

Point taken. It should be “Communist Revanchism.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 09, 2008 06:40 AM | Send

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